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How to combine your agile product roadmap and OKRs in 5 steps

Peter Kerrigan
Peter Kerrigan
30 November 22 Agile
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OKRs, a five-step guide for product managers

As a product team, you may already be using OKRs alongside your roadmap, but if you aren't and are unsure how to do this, this blog is for you. Let's start by defining an OKR and how it differs from a roadmap.

  • Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is a time-bound agile framework for setting goals and KPIs for the broader organisation and specific teams. 
  • A roadmap is a visualisation of your strategic plan to achieve your objectives. 

It isn't an either-or situation; you don't have to choose between these goals; you can and should use both. OKRs are the 'what do we want to achieve?' and the roadmap is the 'how are we going to achieve it?'. When in sync, they can work together to achieve your organisation's strategic objectives, build high-performing product teams, and create value.

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1. Focus on desired outcomes, not outputs

OKRs give your roadmap the structure and focus on delivering features that add value. Specifically, Objectives describe the qualitative product improvements your team is aiming for. In contrast, Key Results are more quantitative and help you measure the impact of what the roadmap has delivered. They align your team around the same outcomes to achieve the objectives. The result: everyone is laser-focused on these desired outcomes – not unnecessary outputs.

OKR example: 

  • Objective: Increase recurring revenue by 12%.
  • Key result 1: Increase average subscription to £200 per month.
  • Key result 2: Add 40 new customers per month.
  • Key result 3: Reduce churn to less than 3% per month.
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2. Define your OKR strategy at every level

Spreadsheets serve a valuable purpose and often do the job until you need to share, collaborate on, or present your roadmap to stakeholders. An OKR product roadmap is one of the most critical documents in a product manager's toolkit. It deserves a place where it can be the strategic, OKR-tracking north star of your product team. The whole direction and focus of the team are captured and shared here in this visual and collaborative reference point.

The agile approach to product development means this method of tracking and reporting isn't scalable and does little to drive adoption or buy-in because tracking progress becomes very difficult and labour-intensive. With agile roadmap software like Aha! Roadmaps, Jira, or GTMHub, you can define your OKR strategy at each level of your organisation's hierarchy, starting with company initiatives, sometimes called goals. These are the connecting point between strategy/OKRs and work items or tasks that make the connection between your Objectives and Key Results. Atlassian has integration for mapping your OKRs in Jira and Confluence using the Kanban project template.

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"Follow a top-down approach that starts with defining overall company objectives. Then create supporting goals or objectives at each level of your hierarchy"
Peter Kerrigan, Agile Transformation Consultant
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3. Let your agile roadmap take the initiative

An OKR consists of an Objective, which tells you where to go, and several Key Results, which are the results you need to see to achieve your Objective. The strategic initiative is the bit in the middle, detailing all the projects and tasks that will help you achieve your Key Results. These initiatives are explicit within your roadmap, and capturing your key initiatives in a place within an agile product management tool is vital so that everyone can see the focus of your teams.

Aligned initiatives influence the success or failure of an OKR, and they live within your roadmap. You should define the goals needed to support your objectives and create them at each layer of your organisation, filtering them down to individual team objectives. Do this, and “hey presto!”, you have built your roadmap, bursting with quick wins, yielding fast results in a short timeframe. 

At the end of the quarter, the OKR review will determine which, if any, of the initiatives were completed. Once you have done a quarterly review, you will know how far the needle has moved towards completing the higher-level OKRs, and if your team achieved the quarterly ones.

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"A word of caution, don't put specific deliverables into your OKR plan, or you will be on the slippery slope back to a fixed time and fixed outcomes, which is not an agile approach. If you do this, you will struggle to make the organisational behaviour change needed for agile transformation."
Peter Kerrigan, Agile Transformation Consultant

4. Engage high-performing teams

Within your roadmapping product management software, you can add a time frame and define the success metric and expected key results for each objective; then, you will be all set for success. Your OKRs will be visible and measurable, and your lean roadmap reflects your goals with linked initiatives and associated features and tasks. Once these agile frameworks are connected and aligned, you are in the best possible position to measure and achieve your future OKRs.

Using OKRs and lean roadmaps gives your team the best blend of ownership and focus because stakeholders can provide clear direction on the core drivers of success at the foundation of the OKR and ensure the development team heads in the right direction. The flexibility of the lean roadmap gives autonomy as it allows the team to work out the best way to solve the problems outlined; this drives alignment and engagement from ownership—teams who use OKRs and roadmaps together see real improvements in performance. 

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"Always give everyone who needs it access to view your new roadmap. This way, you no longer need to explain your strategic progress multiple times a week to each stakeholder, and Excel spreadsheets will be a distant memory."
Peter Kerrigan, Agile Transformation Consultant

5. Regularly assess OKR progress

With roadmaps built around company objectives, people can view them and see everything they need to know. With Aha! Roadmaps, for example, anyone with access can jump in to view what your teams are working towards, how you plan to achieve it and view the metrics that define your success. You can share a detailed long-term roadmap without firm date commitments, keeping things agile.

Your roadmap tells a complete story about your team's accomplishments in each sprint and what is coming next. A sprint's effectiveness and contribution to the strategic objective can be made much easier by visualising the results. Product roadmap tools like Aha! Roadmaps, Jira Align and provide an accurate and visual sense of progress, with progress bars showing progress towards completion. Everyone can see how far your team has come towards your goals; displayed as 'percentage complete' — it also allows you to make minor agile adjustments as things change up to your delivery dates.

It's almost impossible for your product teams to go off in the wrong direction when you link OKRs to a lean product roadmap, so there is no time like the present to combine these agile approaches to keep your product teams on the right track adding value.

Need help?

Adaptavist can support your agile journey by advising on the best tools to suit your business and provide experienced agile OKR coaching that can set you up to succeed. If you are interested in learning more about our solutions and services, please contact us. 

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