Dear Andy: Top Down or Bottom Up OKRs?
If our organization has set an objective with KRs relating to the completion of specific projects, then how should we approach the supporting departmental OKRs? For example, if the organizational objective is something like:
O: Provide service that meets customer needs
and a corresponding KR is
KR: Construct X on time and on budget
would it be possible and advisable to have the KR become a departmental objective? I guess we’re struggling to figure out how best to approach projects that absolutely must be realized within certain parameters (little flexibility).
Thanks so much for your great question. The short answer? Yes and no.
The method you’ve asked about is called Top-Down Cascading OKRs. To summarize, the KRs from the top-level organizational OKRs become departmental Objectives. Then the KRs of the departmental OKRs become the Os for the team Objectives, and that process trickles down until you’ve reached the OKRs for individuals. It’s a great way to align goal setting and make sure everyone is working on the same thing (or, conversely, no one is working on the same thing).
Some organizations expect the cascade to be pretty literal—meaning that there is little or no variation in the words used as a KR becomes the O of the next layer down. Here’s an example:
Then the departmental OKR becomes
And so on and so forth. That being said, we always recommend letting each team write their own KRs to go with that O.
A team’s O is their statement of purpose—the reason why they’re all there. Would you feel more inspired to action if you were simply told what your purpose was or if you were given the space to figure it out yourself? In other words, trust your people! As Steve Jobs once said, “We don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
In the end, it may take some time for you to figure out what works best for your company. Whichever path you chose, it’s important to regularly check in on your OKRs and honestly ask “is this working?” If it is, then great—keep going! If not? Scrap it and try again. Remember—while your project constraints may be inflexible, your OKRs most certainly aren’t.
Thanks so much for writing in, Evan, I hope this has been helpful for you. Please keep us in touch and let us know where you’ve landed in this process and how it’s working out for you.
Billy from the What Matters Team
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