Successfully combining OKRs and Kanban

The goal-setting framework OKR originated in the IT industry or, to be more precise, at Intel in the United States. The Kanban System came from the Japanese automotive industry. Both methods offer an answer to two different questions. OKRs answer the question of what strategic goal should be followed and what added value it brings to a customer, while Kanban says what concrete steps need to be taken each week to reach that goal. These days, OKRs and Kanban are not only used in IT companies and the automotive industry, but have also made their way into all other industries and companies. Despite their differing origins, both have one thing in common: They can be combined. We are going to tell you how OKRs can be integrated into Kanban and what advantages can arise from this.

Contents

  1. What is Kanban? 
  2. Kanban vs. Scrum
  3. How can OKRs and Kanban be combined?
  4. Advantages of integrating OKRs into Kanban
  5. OKRs and Kanban FAQ

What is Kanban? 

Kanban is a popular work management method originating in the automotive industry. The Japanese car manufacturer Toyota introduced just-in-time production in the late 1940s, resulting in the Toyota Production System. Now, the Kanban method is not only used in automotive production, but in many other lines of work as well. Translated, Kanban means sign, board or card, which describes the exact function of Kanban. With help from Kanban boards, individual tasks, intermediate results and final results are visualized. In this way, a fluid workflow can be organized and bottlenecks can be identified at certain points within the production process. As a result, the process can be optimized on a continuous basis.

Kanban vs. Scrum

Kanban and Scrum have many common principles:

  • Structured planning in backlogs
  • Work in progress limits
  • Continuous optimization of the process and much more

However, they also differ in key ways. Kanban is a more “lightweight” agile implementation method. Scrum, on the other hand, has a more complex structure. This is why Kanban is often used as an entry point into the world of agile work, while Scrum is generally used by software teams that need to solve complex problems within a short period of time and usually move on to the next problem based on two-week cycles. Many organizations and teams, therefore, opt for the Kanban method. However, there are teams that combine both methods into what is known as a Scrumban. For this, a Kanban board is used to track the work in a Scrum cycle.


How can OKRs and Kanban be combined?

OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, are a holistic management method for goals and performance at all levels of a company. The Objectives represent a value proposition, while the Key Results measure whether the value proposition has been achieved. Because OKRs describe strategic outcomes—that is, the added value generated for an internal or external customer—they represent a bridge between strategic artifacts, such as KPIs, and levels of implementation. Teams that are already familiar with the Kanban method can use Kanban boards to help implement the work derived from OKRs. In this way, they can easily visualize OKR-related work using Kanban boards and, to that effect, combine both methods. Thanks to the clear visualization and continuous function of Kanban, teams are able to work on their goals without hindering their existing workflow. 

A good way to keep track of whether Kanban items are contributing to OKRs and which ones represent other work is to color code the OKR-related items or even structure the Kanban board according to the OKRs. Teams should regularly examine their Kanban boards in OKR Check-ins and determine A) whether enough OKR work is being accomplished and B) whether this work has had an effect on their metrics in the Key Results (i.e., whether measurable added value has been created for the customer).

A practical example: Combining OKR and Kanban in content marketing

Demonstrating what a combination of OKRs and Kanban could look like is quite simple. Let’s assume the defined Objective for the Marketing Department is as follows:

  • Our target audience finds our company’s content high in quality and worth reading, which leads to an increase in interested readers.

The associated Key Results could then be:

  • a 2 percent weekly increase in click-through rate
  • a 7 percent increase in download rate
  • a 0.5 point increase in average content ratings

This information could then be displayed with the Kanban board as follows:


Advantages of integrating OKRs into Kanban

A major advantage of combining OKRs and Kanban is the clear and transparent visualization of Objectives and Key Results as well as the items on the Kanban board. In addition, no complex revision process for the existing workflow is required since each team already works with the Kanban method and the integration of OKRs does not carry any further weight. OKRs simply answer the question of why the items are being worked on in the first place. The integration also provides teams with clear feedback regarding the extent their daily work contributes to the accomplishment of the OKRs. Their impact is measured in the Key Results.

OKR Framework Guide EN

OKRs and Kanban FAQ

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a popular work management method. With help from Kanban boards, individual tasks, intermediate results and final results can be visualized. In this way, a fluid workflow can be organized and bottlenecks can be identified at certain points within the production process. As a result, the process can be optimized on a continuous basis.

What is the difference between Kanban and Scrum?

Kanban is a more “lightweight” agile implementation method. Scrum, on the other hand, has a more complex structure. This is why Kanban is often used as an entry point into the world of agile work, while Scrum is generally used by software teams that need to solve complex problems within a short period of time.

How can OKRs and Kanban be combined?

Since OKRs describe the added value generated for internal or external customers, they visualize a bridge between strategic artifacts, such as KPIs, and the level of implementation. 

Teams that are already familiar with the Kanban method can use Kanban boards to help implement the work derived from OKRs. In this way, OKR-related work can be easily visualized through boards and, to that effect, both methods can be combined.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of integrating OKRs into Kanban?

The advantages of combining OKRs and Kanban include the clear and transparent display of OKRs as well as the low amount of work required to integrate OKRs into Kanban boards. The disadvantage is that the combination of the two methods is more suitable for smaller organizations. As the number of employees grows, the overview of Kanban boards becomes unclear. For larger organizations, we suggest using a dedicated software solution, such as Workpath.