Publication – Indian Express
Strategy execution Project management and OKRs

Strategy execution: Project management and OKRs

The structure of OKRs incorporates the fundamentals of project management. They are timed, have measurable outcomes, and the key results build on the notion of a work breakdown structure.

Successful strategy execution is about enabling an organization to push forward to a shared vision. As vision gets translated into specific goals and objectives—achieving those marks organizational success. The set of such goals and objectives has to be comprehensive, that is, they must relate to all aspects of an organization. Lasting success can only happen if every division, department, location, manager, and employee connect their role and activities to the organization’s vision. Executing on strategy involves undertaking multiple initiatives across many investment areas. Aligning these initiatives unlocks the organization’s potential and is necessary to ensure returns on investment. OKRs or Objectives and Key Results are a proven way of accomplishing such alignment. Coupling them with project management techniques and systems can bring the required structure and visibility.

The structure of OKRs incorporates the fundamentals of project management. They are timed, have measurable outcomes, and the key results build on the notion of a work breakdown structure. At the same time, portfolios of projects at various organizational levels drive the execution of strategic and operational initiatives. Well-planned projects lead to clear periodic goals and individual assignments and responsibilities. These project responsibilities and goals can inform and guide OKRs. The caveat here is that OKRs are crafted by individual team members, and thus the project management methodology must allow for individual agency, pacing, and initiative.

Measuring what matters: The information architecture of a project allows for the identification of timed and measurable outcomes which can be aggregated or at the least seen as a portfolio. For instance, a marketing team member could focus on specific campaigns as individual OKRs, where the objectives add up to overall marketing goals. These OKRs, when put in the framework of a project, allow for interdependencies to be managed better and focus on what is relevant at an organizational level. Project management tools, such as Microsoft Project Online, can allow for easier identification, articulation, coordination, and alignment of OKRs. Progress on OKRs, as captured through these systems, can allow for collaboration and support for shared goals. Also, activities of a large project can be easily and smartly broken down into individual OKRs. When teams are aware of the context and the goals of the project as well as their own goals and objectives, they can ensure successful project completion

Communication and transparency: OKRs work best when they are published and tracked in an open and visible manner. For example, a team leader’s OKRs should inform OKRs of the team members and vice versa. The culture that OKRs enable emphasized transparency, measurement, and collaboration. Good project management approaches also emphasize clear articulation of goals and success criteria at each milestone and for each set of tasks. Again, project management tools used properly should enable the required communication and transparency. When teams interact on their set OKRs, they can work out the gaps in objectives and misalignment with the project plan, ensuring an optimal project plan.

Tracking progress and mitigating roadblocks: Success with projects or with OKRs is facilitated by a frank and honest assessment of progress on a regular basis. Identifying the issues and possible interventions, as well as the support needed, help greatly with achieving the objectives. Project management platforms enable such in an easy and consistent manner. The collaboration and information capabilities allow for tracking and aggregation at multiple levels and early identification of mitigation measures needed for successful execution.

Minding the differences: The attempt must be to bring together the relevant benefits of OKR-based organizational performance management and the project management concepts. It is important to be mindful of the differences and the novel aspects of each. OKRs, at their core, are radically different from a traditional top-down, command-and-control method of organizational management. On the other hand, many project management techniques are built on the top-down approach. Of course, modern project management realizes the power of agility and individual agency, and it is critical that the project management tools are used judiciously. Another key difference is that individual OKRs may not stack neatly to aggregate into team goals. They allow for enormous flexibility and openness for each individual to contribute. Traditional work-breakdown structures are designed for tighter integration and aggregation. Again, the use of modern project management techniques and tools allows for much greater flexibility in terms of measurement criteria and organization.

OKRs present a fundamentally novel way of leveraging individual initiative, creativity, and contribution toward achieving the organization’s vision and goals. This includes the successful execution of the organization’s projects as well as achieving strategic and operational objectives. At the same time, familiar project management concepts, tools, and platforms can make the implementation of OKRs in an organization much more effective.

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