"OKR doesn't work" - our observations

We often hear the phrase “OKR didn’t work for us”. We immediately think of the analogy to “Scrum didn’t work for us”, which we also hear enough from companies.

But why “doesn’t OKR work”? We see several reasons for this perception.

Too fast implementation: companies need to take enough time to go through several iterations with the OKR framework. Dealing with OKR wants to be learned, especially since many levels in the organization are involved here.

No feedback loops: OKR retrospectives are not used to improve the process. There is little sharing between teams to learn from each other. There is no sharing of insights at the team level to the top level to adjust the OKR process there as well. Thus, there is no treatment of impediments.

Overly ambitious goals: Sure, an Objective should be inspiring and ambitious. Key Results should be challenging and realistic. Often we see a heavy use of KPI thinking in Key Results.

Old wine in new bottles: Once learned, old behavior is put over the OKR framework. Characterized by hierarchical thinking, (financial) KPIs and top-down behavior, there is no creativity and freedom in the teams to participate in the corporate strategy with their own OKR sets.

We see a responsibility on management to address and solve impediments. In addition, time and patience are needed at the highest level, because the effectiveness of an OKR implementation is only revealed downstream. As with Scrum, the same applies here: Goals are changeable and should adapt to the environment. So it is not an immediate failure if goals are not achieved. Quite the opposite: this is a wonderful opportunity to learn and to consider what should be changed strategically for the next iteration - in terms of content as well as in the OKR process.

What’s your experience with this? Did you face problems when implementing OKR - and how did you overcome those problems?