Scrum and OKRs – Agility on Different Flight Levels

Digital TransformationOKRs

Scrum was among the first agile concepts to gain popularity within IT organizations. Therefore, other frameworks are scrutinized for their compatibility. This also counts for Objectives and Key Results (OKR) which is gaining popularity. While Scrum and OKRs (just like other agile frameworks) share similar approaches and artifacts, they work on different levels and, therefore, can very well work together.

Flight Levels of Scrum and OKRs

Scrum has its roots in software development and works on a project management level with short review intervals. OKRs, on the other hand, focus on strategic goals and how to achieve them. Both aim to achieve a specific outcome or increment of value creation formulated as Objectives or User Stories. They operate on different flight levels and within different time frames, though. Therefore, Scrum teams can leverage the OKR cycle of 3 to 4 months as a strategic guardrail and incorporate their Scrum artifacts and 6 to 8 Scrum sprints into it. 

Getting from OKRs to the Scrum Backlog

Translating OKRs into the Scrum backlog is the toughest challenge in order to leverage both frameworks. However, if you know how to do it, it provides you with an increased focus towards a strategic goal.

Let’s assume an online shop sees a high bounce rate during the check-out process. The product team decides to tackle this issue during the next OKR cycle and draft an OKR like this:

Objective: Our check-out process now works seamlessly and fast so our users love engaging with the feature

KR1: Reduce bounce rate from x to x

KR2: Reduce the time to checkout reduced from x to x

KR3: The check-out process rating improves from 3 to 4 stars out of 5

The team now brainstorms initiatives that might move the needle on these Key Results. They come up with various Hypotheses that might do the trick, for example:

Hypothesis 1: The User Experience is not ideal and the users might not be able to find the “pay now” button →  Deduced Initiative: Improve the UI of the Checkout-process 

Hypothesis 2: We have received several requests to add PayPal as a payment method and it is an industry benchmark→ Deduced Initiative: Add Paypal as a payment method

To determine the time and effort that goes into each initiative the team now maps these initiatives according to their resource investment, as well as how strongly they contribute to the value they want to provide. They also have to determine if these initiatives are feasible within a sprint. While this might be the case for Hypothesis 1, it is rather difficult for Hypothesis 2. Therefore, it might rather be on the flight level of an Epic and needs to be broken down in a way that fits the backlog.

If you want to find out how to make the best of your OKR cycle click here: How to create an effective OKR cycle

No “Death by Meeting”

Bringing together Scrum and OKRs usually takes place in an environment where Scrum is already established. Introducing OKRs as well usually means to them even more meetings as both frameworks contain a high frequency of meetings to gather learnings and identify roadblocks. However, as the example above has shown, it is possible to synchronize their individual formats and rhythms to avoid meeting fatigue. 

During the OKR cycle, Scrum Retrospectives and Reviews can take place as Check-Ins to discuss the impact on the OKRs. The only additional meetings take place before the kick-off for the next cycle. Once the organizational OKRs have been drafted, the team comes together for the team-specific OKR Drafting, Alignment sessions with other teams, and, finally, the OKR Refinement. In this case, the Product Owner ideally also takes the OKR coach role to connect and align strategy and Scrum.

Further possibilities

OKR can also support Scrum teams to establish greater autonomy and work more self-organized. Aligning their goals with company strategy provides them with enough freedom to independently choose the activities to reach the Objective.

Ultimately, as with most agile frameworks, it is not a question of IF, but HOW they can be leveraged simultaneously. Depending on individual preferences Scrum and OKRs are very well compatible and can improve the way organizations work.

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