LEAN OKR: Progressive adoption of OKR using LEAN

Success comes from Simplicity

We were excited to start using OKR. The method is clear and simple, promising, and successful in many large companies. It can be explained and understood in 1 hour. So… WHY IS IT NOT WORKING FOR ME?

Nobody told you it was going to be easy…

In this post, I will summarize my experience: from the time-consuming difficult beginning and all the unexpected mistakes to the fixes, workarounds, adaptations, and solutions that eventually led us to success. It was mainly based on building a new approach by using some bullets: LEAN & OKR.



In a method based on objectives… Is there anything more important than defining them correctly?

OKR isn’t difficult;
It’s all about changing your mind about working with objectives 

This is the real challenge

The most common situation I’ve seen is that managers already have a backlog, roadmap, or project list, that they cling to with faith and confidence. 

Indeed, they handle the process to include them and, in the end, the goal-setting phase becomes a direct translation of these into an “official OKR template”. It results in an artificial and unnatural definition of objectives (and their KR) to justify them. 

So, why bother using OKR?

The goal-setting phase’s main value is to stop and actually think about our purpose, and our real objectives as a company or as a team. You should start from scratch, without influences or constraints associated with your current work in progress or previous plans. This is not easy or trivial, but you will be surprised once you have achieved it and realized what you are really looking for.

Afterward, you could pick up your initial list again and see if you can find some useful ideas or tasks to feed the new goals. I bet that you’re going to throw most of them away.

Congratulations! Now you are saving yourself money and effort by not working on something you really didn’t need (even though you love it…)

Do you know what this is called? WASTE. And it’s the first thing Lean wants to vanquish. 😉

My final tip about this is a common statement in our world:

Avoid thinking of solutions (features, products…)
before defining your needs (outcome).



If we are trying to align efforts, we should measure the value they are providing to know if we are on the right track.

Early and measurement-based rectification is a great demonstration of the organization’s management maturity.

  • We need to realize we are wrong to rectify 
  • We need to be conscious of this as soon as possible to rectify it earlier
  • And… we need to trust our metrics. Wrong numbers or erroneous interpretations lead us to make wrong decisions.

Quick but wrong shortcuts that take us away from it:

Binary metrics “true/false”: you are measuring progress only once throughout the whole period when delivering or achieving something. Like traffic lights without context.

Common examples:

  1. To deliver a new website feature
  2. To incorporate a new French salesman
  3. To activate the new DB server

Don’t they look more like… tasks or initiatives? If it looks like a task, it is a task. Again: don’t tell me the solution, tell me the need. Don’t the following approaches seem more appropriate?

  1. Increase by 10% the time spent by users on the site
  2. Increase the conversion of new leads in France by 20%.
  3. Reduce the average response time of database queries by 1 second.

The company should meet these needs and although the first group solutions seem the most appropriate, the second approach makes the team focus on the real need and also perform parallel actions to advance its progress. Try to imagine some examples, and you will find them: generating better content to engage users visiting our website, marketing campaigns to reach more potential leads, and optimizing some heavy SQL queries in our code…

Too much generalist: KR & Objectives are so ambiguous that you have to invent artificial measurement criteria. Its confidence will be really low… it’s not easy to measure the outcome…

Tsunami effect: You can only see the wave once it is reaching the coast. These ways of measuring only show the progress at the end of the period:

BlindZone Tsunami-effect applied to a KR – The Blind Zone

Isn’t it so close to a binary (Yes/No) lever? For almost all of the quarter (Q3 in the example) we are blind, we can’t see the progress, missing context, and all the OKR benefits to rectify.

Solution: Change your measurement criteria. If you can’t figure out how to do this… maybe you have to change your work model to an incremental one where you will be constantly delivering smaller tasks or initiatives that add value to the metrics. It’s better to have small and continuous increments. The Tsunami-effect is an obvious indicator that you are not using this approach.


DEPENDENCIES (aka non-continuous flow)

When setting objectives, it is essential to make sure that they are not dependent on each other. The problem with depending objectives is that if one of them is blocked or delayed, it will inevitably affect the other objectives, creating a bottleneck that interrupts the continuous flow that we want to achieve, not ensuring enough flow efficiency at a global level.

For example, imagine that the objective of a team is to build a new feature that depends on a new API that another team is developing. If the API is not delivered on time, the feature team will not be able to meet its objective, even if it is well-managed and on track. This can cause frustration and a sense of failure, which can affect team morale.

Let’s see some additional examples: 

ObjectiveKRDependencyOKR OwnerDependency Owner
Increase sales revenue by 20%Achieve $1M in sales revenue in Q3New website designSalesDesign
Increase customer satisfaction score to 90%Achieve 4.5 out of 5-star rating on customer surveysImproved product packagingCustomer ServicePackaging / Logistics
Reduce employee turnover rate by 25%Decrease annual employee turnover rate to 15%Revised benefits packageHuman ResourcesBenefits dept.
Increase website traffic by 50%Achieve 10,000 unique visitors per monthSEO optimizationMarketingSEO Specialist / Web dev team

Tip: Identification and Clear Communication

Often, our first instinct is to avoid dependencies altogether, but in the real world, that’s not always possible. So, it’s important to consider strategies for mitigating their impact.

To prevent depending objectives from becoming blockers, it is essential to identify them in advance and find a way to mitigate their impact. One way to do this is to create a clear communication channel between the teams involved, making sure that everyone is aware of the dependencies and potential risks. Another approach is to prioritize the objectives based on their level of dependency and start with the ones that have the least impact on the others.

Visibility above all! The idea is to keep the flow continuous.



When we read about OKR, we fall in love with how Google, Intel, and other corporations use it. Only the positive aspects of a model based on defining objectives at different levels across the company, and their different cadences come to your mind.

And it makes sense! Everything fits! We want to apply it!

But, again… nobody told you it was going to be easy…

Let’s imagine a real scenario:

  • Mid-sized company (200 employees) composed of 6-7 departments.
  • One of them, EPD (Eng, Prod, and Design) has up to 14 teams
  • Each team has 3-5 objectives and 3-5 KR for each one of them (as the theory suggests)
  • And we start defining initiatives and projects for each team.
  • Ah! And… Why not also apply individual OKR??
  • REALITY: more than 300 KR, more than 400 initiatives… only in one quarter!

Consequences are the overload and in the end… collapse:

It’s impossible to follow up on such an amount of metrics on a weekly basis. It would require a lot of time to set the objectives and their KR, measure and keep the whole collection updated. When you realize it, it’s time to finish Q3 and start another cycle… it’s frustrating!

  • Too generalistic metrics because we don’t have enough time to fine-tune them
  • Tasks disguised as objectives (AKA boolean KR)
  • Copying the same objectives quarter over quarter (just modifying the values)
  • Lack of focus in operations. Projects become bigger that overlap multiple quarters which implies not updating the OKR.

Chaos, inefficiency, excessive bureaucracy, too many procedures, and steps… Complexity.

Is there any solution? Each one of you must figure out their own, but I’d like to share my approach.

Let’s do some magic: a touch of LEAN mindset, a hint of common sense, experience, and a progressive approach:


Its main principle: “Do not bite off more than you can chew”

A progressive OKR implantation helps to reduce and limit the system’s complexity and helps a lot to facilitate its rollout. Remember the first and most important consequence: abandonment.

  • It makes their follow-up easier
  • It helps to have a better understanding of the company’s goals
  • It improves teams’ adaptability, an essential characteristic, especially in the beginning where uncertainty is higher
  • It frees time for analysis and feedback. It brings us to the system’s improvement and learning.
  • We gain focus on the most important things
  • Avoid “paralysis by analysis”

Here are my personal tips for this: 

Disregard some of the levels: For example: Is it necessary to calculate new company OKRs every quarter? Focus on the team level! The most practical.

Avoid superfluous work such as updating every week dozens of metrics that vary little. Either automate their measurement or reduce the update frequency. Or remove them…

Make it simpler: avoid individual OKRs at least in the beginning. Don’t do that until reaching a decent level of maturity in using OKR. It’s very easy (and risky) to mix them with performance reviews. This is wrong. If you mix them OKR will be considered a pressure and monitoring tool instead of a powerful alignment method, and it will generate rejection and mistrust.

Size matters? Yes, of course. If you set a hyper-ambitious objective that can generate much value but at a high cost, this will reduce the time for other minor but important objectives. It’s better to diversify, making sure not to leave all their eggs in one basket. 

Prioritize: if we are not able to pay attention to all our KRs, we must prioritize them. This task is easier if we first limit them in number and if we manage to standardize their size.

Make quality room for introspection that leads us to continuous improvement. To me, this is the most powerful aspect and benefit of using OKR: we can constantly adapt our strategy to reality, based on the feedback we are getting from our own performance and achievements (or the lack of them)

We must learn from our successes and mistakes to move forward


Be patience! It’s easy to buy what it’s easy to explain, the top of the iceberg but what we need under the hood is what really matters: 

It takes time to establish the model, to create the necessary culture of collaborative work and work by objectives, to refine the drafting and selection of these, and, above all, to constantly self-analyze ourselves in order to polish and get more and more fruit from the OKRs.

Again… No one said it would be easy… But just like having kids, you know… It pays off! 😀

Tell us about your experience!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s