A successful OKR implementation is the foundation of a healthy OKR process and the long-term transformation into an adaptive and future-proof organization. It is also the blueprint for later scaling efforts and should therefore be thoroughly planned before the first cycle.

If you are not yet familiar with the OKR framework, take a look at our article "Objectives and Key Results (OKR) - A Definition"

1. How to Choose the Pilot

Depending on the company size, the OKR implementation should start in a small pilot group of roughly 100 to 250 users. If your whole company is about that size, you can do a „Big Bang“ Rollout and start with the whole organization. If your company is bigger, this pilot group should be located in an agile advanced area. As the goal of this early stage is to find suitable processes and metrics, this pilot group should be regarded as the whole organization in a microverse. It should not be an isolated team, but have some external dependencies to work on alignment and cross-functional collaboration.

This pilot group will form a stable nucleus from which your organization can scale the OKR practice further. It should run for at least 2 cycles after which you can determine if the initial phase was successful or the rollout needs to be prolonged. The Kick off for this first phase, however, should start 3-4 months before the first cycle as this gives the leadership team, as well as all parts involved enough time for preparation.

2. Scaling Bottom-up or Top-down?

Once everybody involved feels comfortable with the OKRs running, you can start integrating further areas. If your organization is too big to do a „Big Bang“ implementation, you have two options. Both come with benefits, but also potential challenges you need to consider.

Top-Down

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In this scenario, you set the overarching strategy for the first cycle(s) and proceed by integrating relevant areas down to the teams. In the beginning OKRs are implemented in leadership and management layers only. Afterwards, you implement OKRs in one stream down to the team level.

The benefit of this approach is that there is an early big picture as the upper layers have an up-and-running OKR practice. It also serves as a „soft“ introduction as it doesn’t disrupt traditional ways of working early on.

On the other hand, this approach bears the risk of having your rollout get stuck at upper layers. Because traditional ways of working do not change that much the lower levels may work with „Fake OKRs“. Additionally, OKRs might get the image of a management tool and the advantages of OKRs as a self-management tool get lost.

Bottom-Up

This approach has greater disruptive potential. It starts with co-created OKRs between teams or divisions which grow horizontally and vertically along the organizational structure up to the top layers. In this scenario, teams start using OKRs which provides learnings for later scaling into other areas in terms of metrics or processes. It can also serve as a success case for the organization that leads to the most learnings and greatest validations. 

The challenge with this approach is that the benefits of alignment and autonomy are restricted in the beginning as only few parties are involved. It also means that the leadership level is not involved in the learning process. It is therefore crucial to continuously keep management up to date to ensure acceptance and understanding of the successful rollout. This is also important, as OKRs on the team level might challenge many things and lead to impediments that cannot be resolved without involvement of upper leadership.

3. Establish a Change Ecosystem

A critical success factor for implementing OKR is to gather learnings and exchange best practices across the parties involved with rolling out OKRs. Coaches, Program Leads, as well as members of the leadership team need a central hub for knowledge exchange which is also important for future scaling efforts. Setting up a coach community from day one ensures that everybody in the organization is on the same page and knows where to go if challenges arise.