At Atiim, one of the most common questions we encounter from prospective OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) users is: Can it be used alongside scrum? Many managers and executives are familiar and content with their existing scrum processes, so to introduce anything that might compromise the value of those tactics would be counterproductive.

That’s why OKRs work so well, and are implemented by so many leading organizations. Not only can OKR goalsetting be used in conjunction with scrum, but it absolutely should be.

Of course, there are certain factors to keep in mind to achieve the best possible results.

What Scrum Really Is

Perhaps you use scrum every day – even so, it can be helpful to revisit the basics when we are considering how OKR fits scrum. Like OKR, scrum is a framework. As you know, it’s used to develop complex products, and it effectively enhances communication and teamwork across an organization.

Also like OKRs, scrum is used to organize goals. It helps teams achieve ambitious goals in a short period of time, which is why it’s become so popular in many leading organizations. However, the Scrum Guide does not define goals, which is a critical practice for developing an effective goalsetting process. That’s where OKRs come in.

How OKRs Complement Scrum

While scrum may indeed be an effective system for quickly developing complex projects in a fast-paced organization, there are a few areas in which it falls short. OKRs address and provide solutions for those areas as follows:

  • Define Goals: I mentioned above that the scrum process does not feature any single definition for goals. While you might think that “goals” are self-explanatory, there’s a risk in failing to define them – for one thing, employees lose clarity and there’s no universal understanding across teams as to what each goal really entails. OKRs require both Objectives and Key Results to meet S.M.A.R.T. criteria, thereby providing total clarity for every team and individual contributor.
  • Clarify Success Criteria: Oftentimes, the success of a scrum project is measured loosely by quality – but a concrete way to determine how well the job was completed is lacking. To combat the issue, OKRs focus not only on output but also the outcome, or business results.
  • Develop Autonomy: Scrum processes limit autonomy because it places the emphases on the team’s ability to deliver the customer’s desired features. When the OKR process is married with scrum, the focus is instead on meeting the criteria set forth by the Key Results (which ultimately do factor in the necessary features set forth by the customer). With this approach, employees become results-driven and can rely on autonomy to accomplish OKRs, rather than feeling as if they’re working towards someone else’s goals.

Ultimately, OKRs make up for all of the things that the scrum process lacks.

If you’re still unsure about how OKRs complement scrum, consider how one of the most successful companies in the world does it – Google.

How Google Uses OKRs with Scrum

The Atiim team is always referring to Google’s successes, as they are a leader in OKR best practices. Additionally, Google executive Rick Klau openly encourages other managers and executives to stop thinking that they can’t be like Google in his OKR video, and instead asks them to adopt the mindset that you can follow their lead and achieve business outcomes in your own company through OKRs.

Thus, let’s take a look at how Google’s OKR practice complements scrum:

  • In How Google Works by Eric Schmidt, it’s revealed that Google reviews OKRs quarterly. This is a suitable timeframe to execute goals for product or engineering teams.
  • The Google culture has a healthy competitiveness and significant level of discipline, which fits closely with any scrum culture.
  • OKRs leverage scrum by empowering team members to achieve goals through the autonomy we discussed above. Ultimately, employees who are working in an OKR/scrum environment will feel motivated by both the success of short-term accomplishments as well as the feeling that they’re supporting larger company goals.

Why You Need OKRs to Support Your Scrum Process

The benefits listed above describe how OKRs can not only complement scrum, but are in fact necessary to fill in the gaps that scrum leaves. Moreover, OKRs are all about enhancing your existing processes. Although they may require a short adjustment period, it’s easy to develop a rhythm with them. Plus, any teams that are already operating using the scrum process will be more apt to respond well with OKRs, since they are used to a rapid cadence and an outcome-driven process.

OKRs align teams, support the achievement of aggressive goals, and sustain ongoing employee engagement. While they can work well in any environment, teams that use scrum are perhaps the best possible candidates for introducing OKRs.

The Definitive Guide to OKRs

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