Companies with a strong project management practice save 28 times more money than those that just “go with the flow”.
Regardless of how good you are at project management, things won’t work if the company doesn’t have clearly defined goals, and alignment among team members.
OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) is a method of setting goals and communicating them throughout the organization. OKRs for project management bring a unified understanding of the outcomes that a project would like to achieve. Moreover, project managers successfully use OKRs to improve their internal processes and create a habit of continuous improvement in their teams.
To help you get the hang of OKRs, we’ll go over the differences between OKRs and traditional project management and discuss how you can apply OKRs in your project management practice.
To make things real, we will also run through some OKR examples for project managers.
What does OKR mean in project management?
When a project team is taking on an assignment, it’s very tempting to jump right into execution. This means that two weeks later you may find yourselves buried in tasks with no clear direction on how to prioritize.
OKRs in project management are goals with a clear and straightforward structure where:
- an O (Objective) is an improvement statement or a problem that needs to be solved,
- KRs (Key Results) are measurable outcomes that prove that the problem has been solved.
For example, let’s say that a company put together a cross-functional project team to implement a new CRM system for the organization. There is a marketer, an engineer, a salesperson, a business analyst and a project manager on this team.
The expectation for the project is to have a successfully working CRM system. But what does “successfully” mean? Implementing a CRM system is not an end goal in itself, and the real purpose is to find a way to close more deals and retain customers. So what are the real issues that the team needs to solve with this implementation?
With this reasoning in mind, here is an OKR example for project managers in this particular case:
With an OKR like this, the team understands why they need to implement a CRM system and how it would contribute to the company’s success.
So project management OKRs focus on what the team needs to accomplish during the quarter and how they are going to measure their success or failure towards the Objective with the Key Results.
As projects could range from implementing a CRM system to launching a new business line in the European market, the quarterly OKRs could be focused on any improvement opportunities that these areas are connected to. Big strategic projects that would take years to accomplish could have different OKRs each quarter driving the desirable outcomes associated with the scope of work.
Let’s now take a deeper dive into Project Management OKRs and how they differ from traditional task management.
OKRs vs. Projects
OKRs and project management are different approaches but they do have their similarities:
- Both frameworks recognize importance of planning;
- Both frameworks are applied to guide teamwork and collaboration.
Despite these similarities, the underlying structure and logic of these approaches are very different.
In traditional project management, all tasks are cascaded top-down and distributed between the team members. Because of the waterfall planning structure, team members sometimes complete their tasks in a different way than expected or take much longer than anticipated to finish their assignments.
Both of these issues are deeply rooted in the lack of proper communication and misunderstanding of the outcomes associated with the project. Misunderstanding leads to re-work. Re-work leads to frustration. Frustration leads to missed deadlines, and because of missed deadlines, you can lose a lot of money.
Project Managers use OKRs to mitigate these risks, and create a purpose-driven agenda for the project team. OKRs unite the team, and lay the foundation for effective and efficient execution.
How does that happen exactly?
In a nutshell, the OKR methodology, when applied correctly, invites team members to participate in the goal-setting process and contribute their unique knowledge and background to the discussion. This discussion is needed to work smarter, and spot opportunities for better execution techniques.
There is a “why” for everything that you do. Otherwise, why are you doing it? And the job of OKRs is to keep that “why” big and shiny on the horizon.
This infographic contrasts and compares OKRs and Projects:
Keep your eye on the “why”
OKR software keeps goals front and center with tracking functionalities and visual dashboards – stay focused, achieve outcomes.
So the difference between OKRs and traditional project management is in the planning process itself. Additionally, OKRs put stronger emphasis on measurable change that the team needs to accomplish within a quarter. All activities and deliverables will be prioritized based on the outcomes defined in the Team OKRs.
If you are just starting to use OKRs, you may benefit from this video. You will learn about the process of setting OKRs:
OKR Examples for Project Managers
Project teams often use OKRs to make sure they are improving their internal processes to become better as a team.
As OKRs are set and reviewed on a quarterly basis, it’s possible to set OKRs for different project stages (depending on the project duration) or to improve how the team works during those stages.
There are typically 5 stages that a project goes through: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closing.
For your convenience, we put together a list of project management OKRs for each stage of a project’s life cycle. Feel free to copy and modify them as needed:
O: Improve the template of the project charter to achieve faster execution cycle
- Interview 10 team managers to understand the key misunderstandings to address
- New project charter proposal is accepted and confirmed by all 10 managers
- Reduce the early stage discussion period from 14 days to 3 days
O: Reduce the time and effort spent on preparing a project charter
- On average 90% of stakeholders give input before drafting the charter
- Reduce budget planning and alignment process from 40 days to 21 day on average
- 80% of all projects have the outcomes or deliverables defined within 7 days from the start of preparation
O: Simplify our planning process to prevent overdue projects
- Analyze the latest 5 overdue projects to find when and where the timeline didn’t match
- Reduce the number of overdue tasks in the project line up from 40% to 10%
- Reduce the number tasks with more than 2 stakeholders from 30% to 5%
O: Research and understand how we can improve our project timelines
- Interview 10 managers to ask feedback on the timelines and their execution
- Interview 70% of the people who participated in projects execution last year
- Analyze the results and agree on the 3 main improvements to pursue
O: Improve the communication between different stakeholders to reduce rework and save time
- Organize 8 alignment meetings for the project team with 90% of participation
- Increase project overview emails sent to stakeholders from 2 to 8 per quarter
- Increase plan completion per week from 60% to 80% of agreed plans
Monitoring and Controlling
O: Improve monitoring of projects to spot challenges and respond faster
- All of the 7 teams implement the new kanban board tool and update it throughout 12 weeks (measured only by the number of weeks with actual updates)
- Gradually reduce the number of regular reporting channels from 5 (Slack, email, standup meeting, whiteboard, Project Management tool) to 1 (OKR tool)
- 80% of projects have 2-3 monthly evaluation meetings (evaluation of how changes might impact budget or timeline)
O: Improve the documentation process to make the completion of projects faster
- Reduce the number of overdue instances on every stage of the project from 40% to 10%
- Create 5 reporting templates to fill in and send to stakeholders throughout the quarter to avoid creating a “free form” each time
- Reduce time spent on wrapping up a project from 12 days to 5 days on average
OKRs and Project Management Tools
OKRs are not another way to structure your projects.
OKRs’ main purpose is to better your business by singling out improvement areas for the quarter and defining measurable outcomes that a team will try to achieve. You can either identify what needs fixing or brainstorm ideas for doing things in a new way.
Task management tools can be instrumental in driving progress on your Team OKRs. Once the improvement outcomes are defined, the team needs to act to drive progress. These actions (deliverables) can be monitored through task management tools.
However, when it comes to task management, remember that total control is counterproductive. People need room to do their best work which means they should plan and prioritize their tasks as they see fit. It’s much more productive to focus your team on the outcomes you want to achieve and have them come up with plans that would get you to those outcomes faster.
Your role as a project manager then becomes more about facilitating alignment, moderating check-in meetings, and making sure everyone is completing their assignments according to the agreed deadlines. In project teams where tasks are over explained and people are micromanaged, motivation levels are very low. So make sure you know how to guide and align your project team to achieve better results.
Using an OKR tool like Weekdone can be quite beneficial for keeping track of your OKRs especially if you are already using a project management tool like Jira, Google Tasks or Asana. Weekdone has integrations with these platforms so you won’t have to update your plans in two places.
Weekdone is an OKR tool built to help you learn, implement & track OKRs across your company & teams. Sign up now and get your free 14-day trial (no credit card required).