2×2 Matrix for Deploying OKRs

As a management consultant, I learned that pretty much anything can be described in a 2x2 matrix. My 2x2 matrix for getting started with OKRs is finally here!

2x2 OKR Deployment Matrix

This matrix evolved over the last few months after conversations with dozens of start-ups who either recently got started with OKRs or were in the process of planning their deployment.
X-Axis: Single or Multiple OKRs. Christina Wodtke, a super-cool OKR expert and colleague, introduced me to the possibility of a single objective with just three key results.
 
As a management consultant, I learned that pretty much anything can be described in a 2×2 matrix. Here is my 2×2 matrix for getting started with OKRs!
2×2 OKR Deployment Matrix
 
This matrix evolved over the last few months after conversations with dozens of start-ups working with OKRs.

X-Axis: Single or Multiple OKRs. 

Christina Wodtke is a super-cool OKR expert and colleague. She introduced me to the possibility of a single objective with just three key results. Most OKR projects encourage teams to define multiple objectives, typically 3-5 objectives, each with 2-4 key results. In extreme cases, you may even find 20 Key Results for an Objective! For a detailed analysis of the number of OKRs, please see my prior post. However, for small companies getting started with OKRs, I’m recommending a single OKR. That’s right, instead of “OKRs,” I’m suggesting you go with just one “OKR” for the company and each management level. It may be difficult to agree on a single OKR, but the at least give it a try. Most of my clients report that they tried OKRs, but it didn’t work because they set too many. I’ve rarely seen cases where people report OKRs were a disaster because they didn’t define enough! This matrix evolved over the last few months after conversations with dozens of start-ups who either recently got started with OKRs or were in the process of planning their deployment.

Three reasons to start with a SINGLE OKR

  1. Easy to remember. When the company defines a single OKR, everyone in the company should be able to commit that single OKR to memory.
  2. Alignment. Getting everyone to align around a single OKR can be quite challenging, but also quite rewarding. For example, one of my clients had the following company Objective, “improve the user experience for our existing install base.”
  3. Not overwhelming. As with any organizational change program, you’re going to have a group of employees that resist change or feel that a new system is just too much effort to learn. Well, if you take OKRs which is already a pretty lightweight program and simplify even further to a single OKR, anyone who thinks that’s too much to handle, is probably asking permission to look for a new job.

Y-Axis: Company only or down to individual level?

The Google video on OKRs notes that OKRs are set at three levels: company, team, individual. Well, I spoke with several at Google including Rick Klau who noted that the fact that Google has OKRs at multiple levels in no means should be interpreted as a recommendation to deploy OKRs at three levels from the start. In fact, the more I work with organizations getting going with OKRs, the more it becomes clear to me that there’s a trend to begin with company only or company/team only. Very rarely will OKRs be deployed at the individual level from the beginning. OK, so I know I said it’s a 2×2 matrix, but I’m breaking deployment plan into THREE basic options.

Options for the level at which to deploy OKRs

  1. Company only: When first getting started with OKRs, it may be best to take a phased approach. Simply get the executive team to agree on a company-level OKR or set of OKRs and stop right there. Then, explore rolling out to teams and/or individual contributors. This approach enables the organization to get some real experience with OKRs before a full rollout.
  2. Company and team only: In many cases, executives agree on the overall company OKR/s and team leads who report directly to the CEO work with their teams to create OKRs. This is a phased deployment plan. It neither requires nor encourages individuals or teams way down the organizational chain of command to adopt OKRs from the start. Individuals comprising these teams do provide input. Many OKRs should still originate “bottoms-up.”
  3. Entire organization: Even as I type “entire organization,” I sense this is not a viable option for most organizations. Perhaps a start-up with a few employees will be fine with everyone setting their own OKRs from the start. Larger organizations that simply declare “we’re doing OKRs now” will at best create confusion. If you do a full deployment out of the box, provide training on OKRs and establish an OKRs project manager. The project manager can be the resource for supporting the deployment. Choosing someone that everyone gets along with who knows lots about your business will stack the odds in favor of success.

Conclusion

I recommend organizations looking to deploy OKRs assess which quadrant best fits their organization by using the 2×2 OKR deployment matrix. Here is an analysis of each quadrant.

  • Quadrant I. Company only/Multiple OKRs. This is a very easy way to get going with OKRs. Try to set up each company OKR so that multiple teams feel they contribute to each OKR. Otherwise, you may be in Quadrant III without knowing it.
  • Quadrant II. Company only/Single OKR. This is the easiest way to get started and requires the smallest level of investment. The benefits can still be big. Consider taking this approach if your main goal is to improve communication of the overall company strategy to all employees.
  • Quadrant III. Entire organization/Single OKR. This is a great way to get everyone involved with OKRs while limiting the potential for “overwhelm.” People will realize that we’re not simply listing everything we do at work. After all, we only get to set up one OKR!
  • Quadrant IV. Entire organization/Multiple OKRs. You’ll need help. Call me!

Please comment on this discussion as I keep getting feedback that this post is really interesting, and one of my KRs is to get 10 comments on the blog by the end of 2017!

Comments (4)

It was good to read it!

We are trying to put into practice the OKR.

OK, best of luck Diego. And, just remember to be careful about starting with individual-level OKRs!

Yes, we are starting OKR last year, it was one goal on company side, then down to department level, more than 20 OKRs generated, marketing, customer support, engineering, product, each team set 3-5, together we have almost 20.
Besides that, almost each team’s KR needs engineering’s efforts, should engineering team set their own objects to “Fast”?

Cheng,
I really relate to your comment “almost all teams need engineering’s efforts” – this is why engineers make the big bucks 🙂

Not sure what you mean by ‘should engineering team set their own objects to “Fast”’ so feel free to add some more details here. I’d love to try to answer your question.

Here’s a bit of my thinking on dependent OKRs. Each team should clearly identify which KRs are dependent on engineering and jointly define these KRs. Even better, their should be the name of a KR “co-owner” from engineering associated with each of the dependent KRs. You’ll see the “dependent KR” example in the OKRs book which is also now available in Chinese (in case that helps).

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