A guide to OKR check-ins
title: “A guide to OKR check-ins"
date: 2019-03-31T17:16:06Z
categories: blog 
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aliases: [/blog/okr-check-ins, /blog/okr-check-in-guide]
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DRAFT - This post is still being refined. You can make comments here or contact me. Thanks for your suggestions!
While setting your Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) can feel like a daunting task on its own, the real value of OKRs comes through regular check-ins. This is where you get to see how your day-to-day work is impacting your Key Results or, more accurately, your confidence in delivering those key results.
The OKR check-in process is an opportunity to synch up, identify issues, define next actions, see how they affect your confidence, and repeat. A good OKR check-in is a microcosm of the whole OKR process.

A quick overview (for the impatient)

Want some basic steps to get you started? Look no further...
  1. Nominate an "OKR Champion" to facilitate the check-ins. Rotate this role.
  1. Start checking in at the start of the quarter, while your OKRs are still in draft form.
  1. Check in with the team every week (even if the whole team isn't present)
  1. Every week, for each key result:
  1. Review last week's confidence, narrative, and actions
  1. Measure current confidence with a quick fist-to-five vote
  1. Hear from the high and low voters
  1. Re-vote for greater consensus (optional)
  1. Brainstorm actions to improve confidence
  1. Record this info and share it widely
  1. Do it again... and again...until it's a habit
Expect your first check-in to take about an hour and feel pretty awkward; the second should take around 30 minutes and feel more useful. Aim to get check-ins down to around 15 minutes.

Check-ins are the most important part of OKRs

OKR check-ins (like OKRs themselves) should be light-weight, informative, and actionable. Like daily stand-ups, good OKR check-ins should:
  • identify issues
  • propose solutions and next actions
  • unify the team
  • connect actions to outcomes
  • strengthen ownership and accountability
  • celebrate incremental wins
  • create powerful momentum

Setting up for success

As with any new habit, doing regular OKR check-ins requires gentle, constant pressure, and strong team commitment. With practice, check-ins will become a quick, painless, and valuable activity.
Every team should have an OKR champion who, a bit like the Speaker of the House of Commons, facilitates the discussion, captures the outputs, and ensures OKRs are working hard for the team. Usually a project/delivery manager will start in this role (inviting the team to a weekly recurring check-in meeting) and then hand over to different people throughout the quarter. This gives others valuable experience and helps share the load. Try letting the current OKR Champion nominate the next one each week. The weekly check-in can happen any time. Some teams like to use it to kick off the week, or wrap it up, or put it in the middle when there are fewer other meetings. See what feels right to your team.
  • Like any new habit, OKR check-ins will feel cumbersome at first. Persist and they'll get easier and more valuable.

Measure confidence (not progress)

Remember, OKRs are not tactics. They're not a roadmap or a plan. They describe the change you want to see because of whatever you end up doing, but not the activities themselves. For me, this is the key differentiator between OKRs and traditional goal-setting. Check-ins accentuate this distinction.
I believe it's more useful to report on confidence rather than progress. Progress on key results should be easily expressed as a number. If you need an elaborate discussion to measure progress then your key result probably isn't measurable enough. Discussing confidence invites team members to get into the why behind the number.

Use a "fist-to-five" vote

I first read about the fist-to-five vote in the handy Spotify retro kit. It's a terrific, easy, way to get instant feedback from a group on almost any topic.
Start by reading aloud the objectives. Then for each Key Result, ask "On a scale of zero to five, how confident are you that we'll deliver this key result?" On the count of three, each team member holds up some fingers with a fist showing zero confidence and an open palm showing 100% confidence. This is a gut reaction, not a precise scientific measurement. Don't think too hard.