2x2 Matrix for Deploying OKRs
Introducing the 2x2 OKR Deployment Matrix
As a management consultant, I learned that pretty much anything can be described in a 2x2 matrix. So I decided to develop my own 2x2 matrix for companies who want to get started with OKRs. Figure 1 evolved over the last several years after conversations with dozens of companies of all sizes who either recently got started with OKRs or were in the process of planning to deploy OKRs.
Figure 1. 2x2 OKR Deployment Matrix
- Quadrant I. Company only/Multiple OKRs. This is a very easy way to get going with OKRs. Try to set up each company OKR so that multiple teams feel they contribute to each OKR. Otherwise, you may be in Quadrant III without knowing it.
- Quadrant II. Company only/Single OKR. This is the easiest way to get started and requires the smallest level of investment. The benefits can still be big, especially if the main goal is to improve the communication of the overall company strategy to all employees.
- Quadrant III. Entire organization/Single OKR. This is a great way to get everyone involved with OKRs while limiting the potential for “overwhelm.” People will all realize that we’re not simply listing everything we do at work, since we only get to set up a single OKR.
- Quadrant IV. Entire organization/Multiple OKRs. Rolling out OKRs across an entire organization with multiple OKRs may work for start-ups. However, this approach is not practical for organizations with several management levels.
X-Axis: Single or Multiple OKRs.
Christina Wodtke, a super-cool OKR expert and colleague, introduced me to the possibility of a single objective with just three key results. Most OKR projects encourage teams to define multiple objectives, typically 3-5 objectives, each with 2-4 key results, or even more as noted in my prior post. However, for small companies first getting started with OKRs, I’m now recommending starting with a single OKR. That’s right, instead of “OKRs” I’m suggesting you go with just one “OKR” for the company and each management level. Three reasons to start with a single OKR:
Easy to remember. When the company defines a single OKR, everyone in the company should be able to commit that single OKR to memory.
Alignment. Getting everyone to align around a single OKR can be quite challenging, but also quite rewarding. For example, one of my clients had the following company Objective, “improve the user experience for our existing install base.” By defining this single OKR, it motivates everyone to focus on making our existing users happy rather than trying to develop new features for new customers or focusing only on hitting short-term revenue targets which may have been the focus last quarter, but are no longer the top priority.
Not overwhelming. As with any organizational change program, you’re going to have a group of employees that resist change or feel that a new system is just too much effort to learn. Well, if you take OKRs which is already a pretty lightweight program and simplify even further to a single OKR, anyone who thinks that’s too much to handle, is probably asking permission to look for a new job.
Y-Axis: Phased deployment or entire organization.
Should we introduce OKRs gradually at the company only or just get everyone setting their OKRs right from the start? This is a perfectly fair question given that most people watch the Google Ventures video on OKRs. This video notes that OKRs are set at three levels: company, team, individual. Well, I spoke with several people at Google, including Rick Klau, the speaker of the Google video itself. He emphasized that the fact that Google has OKRs at multiple levels should not be interpreted as a recommendation for all companies to deploy OKRs at multiple levels from the start. In fact, the more I work with organizations getting going with OKRs, the more it becomes clear to me that most successful deployments kick off with OKRs set at the company level or company and team levels only. OKRs are not typically deployed at the individual level on day one. Earlier I said it’s a 2x2 matrix, but I am going to cheat a bit and break the deployment plan y-axis into three basic options:
- Company level only: When first getting started with OKRs, it may be best to take a phased approach. Simply get the executive team to agree on a company-level OKR or set of OKRs and stop right there. Then, explore rolling out to teams and/or individual contributors after the organization has had a chance to get some real experience with OKRs.
- Company and team level only: In many cases, executives agree on the overall company OKR/s and team leads who report directly to the CEO work with their teams to create OKRs. This is a phased deployment plan since it does not require or encourage individuals or teams way down the organizational chain of command to adopt OKRs right from the start. The individuals that comprise these teams certainly do provide input to create team-level OKRs “bottoms-up.”
- Entire organization: Even as I type “entire organization,” I sense this will be tough for most organizations. If you’re a start-up with a few employees, it’s probably fine for everyone to set their own OKRs from the start, but for larger organizations, simply declaring “we’re doing OKRs now” will at best create confusion. Introducing OKRs carefully with a single person on point to manage the deployment clearly stacks the odds in favor of success.
Organizations looking to deploy OKRs should assess which quadrant best fits their organization using the 2x2 OKR deployment matrix. For example, organizations looking for the easiest way to test the waters with OKRs should consider a phased deployment starting with Quadrant II: Company only/Single OKR. By setting just one OKR for just the company, the process should require a minor level of investment and yet help communicate the key strategic priorities of the company without rocking the boat. Only the most enthusiastic OKR fans should consider an “all-at-once” deployment as described by Quadrant IV: Entire organization/Multiple OKRs.