What is a value stream mapping

Agile goal setting with OKR – how the implementation succeeds (with OKR retrospectives)

Coordinating agile collaboration across team boundaries brings quite some challenges, especially when it comes to aligning goals across multiple teams. For this purpose, the (compared to other scaling frameworks such as LeSS and SAFe) simple OKR method a widely used approach. 

So that the OKR method actually achieves its goals for focusing and uniform alignment of the teams, the workshop formats around OKRs must be implemented carefully. In this article you will learn what is important when implementing OKR and the workshops. And how you can use the OKR retrospective as a central workshop for the development of the OKR implementation.

In short: What is the OKR method?

The goal of the OKR method is that all teams in organizations focus their priorities on the most important goals. For this purpose, the organizational goals (“Objectives – O”) are broken down into measurable key figures (“Key Results” – KR) and teams use these OKRs as a framework to define their own bottom-up goals and key figures for their value contribution. These goals are transparently shared within the organization.

About the background of the OKR method

The OKR method has its origin in “Management by Objectives” by management thought leader Peter F. Drucker. After this Google successfully used the OKR methodin order to control their own growth and OKR has become popular among startups and modern companies (see List of companies that use OKRs). The book “Measure what matters” by John Doer, who advised Google on the implementation, is considered to be the most important resource on the OKR method.

The 4 workshop formats in the OKR cycle

There are a number of workshop formats that build on each other in the OKR cycle for implementing the OKR method. These workshop formats include OKR Planning, Check-Ins (sometimes called “Weekly”), OKR Review and OKR Retrospectives. The OKR workshop formats are briefly explained below:

OKR planning

Every OKR cycle starts with OKR planning. This workshop is about defining the objectives and the associated key results for the upcoming OKR cycle. Since the definition of the goals is neither exclusively top-down nor bottom-up, OKR planning can be a longer process with several workshop dates.

OKR check-ins

During the OKR cycle, regular OKR check-ins ensure that the progress towards achieving the goals is visible in everyday life. The OKR check-ins can take place at any frequency, for example weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. The OKR check-ins are usually short, compact appointments and usually only last 15 minutes.

OKR review

Once the end of the OKR cycle has been reached, the OKR review is about sharing the final degree of target achievement. In contrast to the OKR check-ins, here you also take more time to address the learnings that go along with the planned and actually achieved key results.

OKR retrospective

Before going back into OKR planning for the next cycle, the OKR retrospective serves to reflect the entire procedure on a meta-level. So this is less about the concrete objectives and key results, but much more about how you got them. The main thing to do is to reflect on whether the workshop formats listed above were effective and how they could be improved.

The workshop formats listed should initially appear relatively plausible. Due to the different levels (at least team and organizational level) there are a few things that you should pay attention to when setting up:


Integrate OKR workshops into the processes of the organization

The workshop formats mentioned take place at both team and organizational level. Depending on the implementation, additional levels can be added. For the order of the appointments you should therefore note that

  • the OKR planning workshop should always start at the organizational level, as the organization sets the framework for the goals of the teams.
  • the OKR retrospective should take place first in the teams in order to be able to incorporate knowledge and suggestions from the teams in overarching OKR retrospectives.

The OKR workshops do not necessarily have to mean new, separate dates in the teams' calendars. Depending on how the teams work, the OKR workshops can be incorporated into existing routines. 

In our blog article on Scrum & OKR you can find out, for example, how these two methods can be integrated.

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The OKR retrospective: The key to effective target control with the OKR method

In practice, many teams end the OKR review with the OKR cycle. The most important step for the effective use of OKRs still follows: The OKR retrospective. As described, the OKR retrospective is about systematically questioning and further developing the implementation of the OKR.

So that you can ask the right questions in the OKR retrospective, we have summarized a few ideas:

Food for thought for OKR retrospectives at team level

The food for thought (called “Items” in Echometer) are formulated as statements to which you can playfully (or in advance by means of a survey) ask for consent in the OKR Retro. Open questions and discussions can easily be derived from this:

1. In our team we gain focus through OKR.

A better focus in the team is one of the hoped-for added values of the OKR method. A common mistake that prevents this added value is recording too many granular key results. If everyone works on different key results, everyone is focused on their own, but at the same time the team as a whole loses focus. With this item you can test whether this is the case.

More food for thought on this item:

  • How many people have contributed significantly to each of our key results?
  • Which key results could you have summarized so that you don't work towards them alone, but as a team?
  • Which key results were only significant for individuals but not for the whole team?

If you like this retro format and questions, you can open them directly in our team development tool Echometer:

2. Our everyday priorities and tasks play a major role in our team OKRs.

The OKR method is intended to ensure a uniform orientation. Of course, this only happens if the defined OKRs actually have an influence on the discussions, decisions and tasks in everyday life. Therefore, ask this item to check whether the OKRs actually play a role in the everyday life of the team.

More food for thought on this item:

  • What proportion of our own working time actually contributed to the OKRs?
  • In which decisions or discussions did we actively include the OKRs as an argument?
  • Which tasks have we given high priority, although they do not or hardly contribute to our OKR?


3. We gain new knowledge at an early stage from the analysis of deviations between actual and planned values.

When defining the key results, you usually do not yet have all the information that is necessary to plan the goal realistically and ambitiously. From the deviations between planned and actual values, important findings can often be derived in order to question the existing initiatives based on them. Use this item to check whether this happens sufficiently, especially in the OKR check-ins.

More food for thought on this item:

  • What were the biggest deviations between plan and actual values in the last OKR cycle and how early did we foresee them?
  • Which assumptions in the definition of the key results have turned out to be incorrect or incomplete?
  • What new ideas or priorities have emerged based on our interim OKR results? 


4. Looking back, we chose and formulated our key results exactly right.

In the first iterations in particular, a few mistakes are certain to be made when defining the key results. And that's OK too, as long as you learn from it. Therefore, this item serves to question the previous definitions.

More food for thought on this item:

  • Can the actual value for each key result be clearly and easily determined during the check-ins?
  • What loopholes are there to meet our key results without creating added value for the organization?
  • Under what conditions would the meaningfulness of our key results be completely meaningless or misleading?


Food for thought for OKR retrospectives at the organizational level

While the food for thought at the team level can basically also work at the organizational level, there are a few other topics that should be specifically reflected on in this context:

1. Our corporate-level objectives are consistent with my understanding of the company's “core purpose”.
At the company level, the objectives should be derived from a “Core Purpose” that encompasses the company's vision and mission. Since everything else is derived from the objectives at company level, this item serves to check this basis.

More food for thought on this item:

  • What exactly is our “Core Purpose” currently? … And do we all have the same thing in mind?
  • What time frame are the objectives at the company level aligned with? Are there certain events or new phases from which individual objectives need to be questioned or updated?
  • Are there any conflicts of interest between the objectives that cause us insecurity in everyday life?

2. Our key results holistically reflect the objectives at company level.
If they are achieved, good key results should indicate that the objective has actually been achieved. With this item you can check whether this is the case. Don't get it wrong: It's not about deriving as many key results as possible, but about creating an understanding of the gaps that arise. As a guideline, the recommended 3 – 5 Key Results per Objectives should remain.

More food for thought on this item:

  • What loopholes are there to meet our key results without reaching the objectives?
  • Under which framework conditions would the defined key results have become completely meaningless for the achievement of our objectives?
  • Can you imagine a situation in which all the key results of an objective would be achieved and the objective still not met?

3. Our OKRs at company level serve as a clear guideline for all major decisions that are made in the organization.
In this item, similar to the previous at team level, it is about whether the OKRs actually have an impact on practice. If decisions are made completely independently of the OKR, there is a need for action.

More food for thought on this item:

  • In which decisions and discussions did we actively involve the OKRs as a decision-making aid?
  • Which of our decisions were unrelated to the OKRs or made it more difficult to achieve them?
  • Which priorities at the company level have been questioned or adjusted by the OKRs, or specifically the deviations from the actual and planned figures?

4. Our OKRs increase transparency and communication between the teams.
A great added value of the OKR framework is the increased transparency, communication and thus uniform alignment between teams. This item helps to assess whether this effect occurs or whether there are still hurdles to be overcome.

More food for thought on this item:

  • How easy is it for us as a team to get an overview of the OKRs of the other teams?
  • What options do we have to ask questions about the other teams' OKRs?
  • What hurdles do we experience when exchanging ideas with other teams and how can we further simplify this exchange?

5. As an organization, we continue to improve our implementation of the OKR method over each cycle.
The implementation of the OKR method shouldn't even be set in stone. The organization should continue to experiment based on the experience of past cycles to improve its own implementation.

More food for thought on this item:

  • Do all topics come up at our OKR retrospectives? How can we make it easier to come up with problems and ideas for improving the OKR implementation?
  • Are we consistently implementing improvements to our OKR implementation? What specific changes or experiments have we made to our OKR implementation in the past?

6. The OKR method prevents us as a company from reacting quickly to new findings.
Especially in companies in a dynamic environment, a frequent criticism is that OKRs are too rigid, especially with long OKR cycles, and therefore hinder the agility of the company. With this inverted item you can find out whether this danger plays a role for you.

More food for thought on this item:

  • What new findings have there been lately that have had an impact on our corporate strategy and thus possibly also on the objectives at company level?
  • In which situations did we feel restricted by the OKRs within an OKR cycle to pursue new ideas or to respond to new findings?
  • Do the key results already seem obsolete to us at the end of an OKR cycle? And would we really define new objectives and key results for shorter OKR cycles, or would we rather adopt the old ones?

7. Our OKRs are a win to our company.
This item is intended to regularly capture the general status quo. In this way, satisfaction with the OKR can be tracked over time.

More food for thought on this item:

  • What concrete gains have we realized lately through OKR?
  • How could the cost / benefit ratio of our OKR implementation be improved? 


With these items and food for thought, you can focus OKR retrospectives on the most important success factors and elicit valuable reflections from the participants. 

At the same time, you have the opportunity to understand the development of individual values over longer periods of time and thus make the success of OKRs more measurable.

If you like this retro format and questions, you can open them directly in our team development tool Echometer:

☝️ To repeat the important point on the order of the different OKR retrospectives: Always start with the OKR retro of the teams, then the OKR retro of the organization. This sequence allows ideas to be passed on from the bottom up.

By the way, of course there are many more retrospective ideas in our retro tool Echometer.

For example, you can reflect on the agile values, your Kanban processes or the Scrum itself. Feel free to take a look at the Scrum retrospective: 

Note: This retrospective format asks for agreement with the given Health Check items on a scale.

Team Radar Tool Health Check Retrospective
  • Planning: Backlog refinement in our team is efficient and effective.
  • Customer orientation: The planning of our sprints is always based on achieving the greatest possible customer benefit in the given time.
  • Agile education: Team members, Product Owner and Scrum Master share the same understanding of their respective roles in the team.
  • Scrum Events: Lately, every Daily in our team has paid off.

Conclusion: Agile target control through OKR workshops & retrospectives

With a clean integration of the OKR workshops in the everyday work of the teams and a consistent reflection of the OKR implementation in the OKR retrospective, target control via the OKR method itself becomes “agile”. 

A good sign of this is when teams actively share doubts about the OKR implementation and either resolve them themselves at the team level or pass on overarching topics to the organizational level via the OKR retrospectives. All levels are actively involved in continuously improving their own OKR logic.

By the way, if you are still looking for a suitable retro board, our article can help you with the topic: Comparing the 6 best retrospective boards

Final tip: team development with Echometer

For a structured reflection and improvement process at team and company level, a look at Echometer could be worthwhile. In Echometer you will receive item suggestions with suitable food for thought for your retros. In addition to OKRs, you can also question other aspects of your collaboration and continuously develop –, regardless of whether you work in a Kanban, Scrum or classic environment. 

Learn how team and organizational development with Echometer works now!




Photo of Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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