How To Use Project Lists To Successfully Achieve OKRs

How To Use Project Lists To Successfully Achieve OKRs

Context

It is important to write OKRs that are measurable, accurately measure the leading indicators of success, and ladder up effectively to the company's OKRs. In order to then successfully achieve those OKRs, a clear and prioritized project list is critical. This document provides a basic how-to on building project lists.

Start Broadly

Once you have a sense of the Company's goals for, say, a given quarter, you can start thinking about what you want your OKRs to be. In particular, you should briefly outline the broad areas you want to work on. From there, as a DRI, you are ready to start divergent brainstorming with your team. Divergent means going in different directions. At this stage, the broader the better, without minimal concern for bandwidth or budget.

Write up a brief document outlining the areas you think your team should work on and why. Share this with your team, including your manager and others who will want to review your final OKRs. Ask them to add in anything else they think is important. Once you collect this quick feedback, revise the document to incorporate it.

Build a Divergent Project List with Your Team

Circulate this broader document back to the team with a structured area for people to input projects. To avoid bias, as DRI, don't input your ideas yet. Ask them to enter ideas, as broad or detailed as they see fit, for projects for the team to execute to make an impact on the areas detailed in your draft OKRs. Give people a few days to go in and add ideas. A spreadsheet or a table works great for this kind of work, but there are also great visualization tools like Miro that can make it more engaging. Then run a synchronous brainstorming meeting. In this meeting, people will talk through their ideas. Call on one person to walk through all their project ideas. Then ask someone else to do the same, but to not retread over ideas already covered. After a few people, take a five-minute break for people to jot down new ideas they may have had. Try to call on people you don't normally hear from, instead of those who generally have the most sway or the loudest voices.

The outcome of this meeting is that you, the DRI, have a broad list of projects, sorted into topical buckets. This is not a voting meeting nor an idea popularity contest. Its a meeting to get all the ideas on the table and make sure everyone who should have a voice, has one.

Size The Project List

De-duplicate the project list as needed. Then, while trying to set aside your bias for what you think will work or not work well, size each project for Effort and Impact. I've found strict t-shirt sizing helps - Small, Medium, Large. Less than 10% of your projects can be XS or XL, and don't let more than 40% of your projects be Medium. Have an opinion and make clear choices, because if you don't, you'll have a bunch of Medium Effort, Medium Impact projects that you can't differentiate between.

Prioritize the Project List

Now that you've sized projects for each KR, sort them based on your sizing, not your opinion. The sort order should be as follows. Include XS or XL as needed.

  • Small Effort, Large Impact
  • Small Effort, Medium Impact
  • Medium Effort, Large Impact
  • Medium Effort, Medium Impact
  • Large Effort, Large Impact
  • Small Effort, Small Impact
  • Medium Effort, Small Impact
  • Large Effort, Small Impact

Draw the Cut Line

Finally, start thinking about your resources - the people on the team that you have, the people or cross-functional team members you'd want to add, and your budget. Based on your resources, you should be able to draw a Cut Line - what do you think you can achieve in the quarter? Some people like to eyeball this, some like to have a few conversations with relevant stakeholders, some people like to get more granular in terms of Developer-Weeks or Budget. Choose the approach that makes sense for you, but make sure you document it so you can revisit it next quarter to see what worked and didn't work for you and your team.

At this point, you can insert your personal taste as a DRI. Maybe you should move something up or down. Maybe someone is going on Paternity Leave and won't be around, so it doesn't make sense to pursue a particular project. Maybe you need to insert a few Small or XS projects to fill in time or get some smaller but important projects completed. Don't blow up your whole prioritization project, but also don't be blindly beholden to your analytical approach.

Finalize your OKRs

Now that you know what you can get done, and the order in which you want to get it done, go back up to the top - your Objective and Key Results. Make sure you set goals that are realistic, but a bit of a stretch, based on the projects you can get done in the quarter. This way you set yourself and your team up for success. Make sure you share back out the final list, along with any supporting documentation, to your team. Make yourself available, async or live, to answer any questions people may have about how you ended up where you did. This is critical to ensuring people understand that their voice was heard and their perspective incorporated.

Go Execute with a Higher Chance of Success!

Now that your have your project list, start working on the projects.

Because you sized and prioritized your work, you’ll get the benefits of compounding returns. For example, if you can increase the growth rate by 1% in the first week of the quarter, you’ll be up 12.7% at the end of the quarter. If you launch that same project in the last week of the quarter, you’ll be up 1%. All for the same amount of effort. This is a key benefit of the prioritized approach.

Your project list work will also help you get more buy-in from all team members because they got to participate and

Parallel processing is also a key consideration. If you can launch a product that needs 3 weeks to collect data early in the quarter, and then work on something else while that’s happening, you will be more likely to achieve your KRs.