Big or Small: piloting OKRs vs. a full company implementation
You’ve decided OKRs are right for your organization. You know the benefits and you’re ready to get started, but which path should you take when it comes to implementing OKRs within your organization? Whether you should run a pilot test or roll out OKRs to the entire company depends entirely on your organization, its size, your total number of teams, and your capacity for change. We partnered with our friends at There Be Giants to talk you through the two most common options and to help you make the best decision for your team.
Implementing OKRs across an entire organization can seem daunting, especially if your organization is a large one, so you may choose to run a pilot project before scaling out to additional parts of the business. When running a pilot, first you’ll choose a particular part of the organization that will be tasked with trying OKRs on for size. This group will learn from the experience and then share the findings of the pilot outward to the rest of the organization before implementing an extended roll-out.
We believe in the concept of “test, learn, adapt,” - a process that is essential to OKR success. By implementing a pilot, you give yourself the opportunity to learn from the positives and negatives of your first OKR implementation, and then you can apply those learnings to the wider organizational rollout. Implementing an OKR pilot ultimately functions as a buffer, giving you the time and experience to iron out any creases before rolling out OKRs to the rest of your organization.
Test to see if OKRs are right for you
Figure out what works (and doesn’t) to share best practices
Could work well for a really specific cross-functional initiative
Can build out a playbook for the rest of the org to follow
Only includes a small part of an org
Not everyone gets to participate in learnings
Many organizations will choose to pilot the OKR framework before rolling it out to everyone. After deciding to move forward with an OKR pilot, the next step is to choose which group in your organization should test out the process first. When piloting OKRs, three groups are natural candidates for pilot implementation: the executive team, an individual department, or a strategic initiative.
Pilot Option 1: Executive Level
This pilot option includes senior management at the executive level. The advantages of this pilot program are that key stakeholders from every department are involved from the start of the OKR program. Once they go through a few cycles, these leaders then establish cadence at the executive level and can disseminate that rhythm throughout the rest of the company. A potential disadvantage to this pilot option is that teams may not have enough information to report on progress effectively, as this option does not involve key contributors.
Pilot Option 2: Department Level
This pilot option begins with one particular department, commonly the product or engineering team, and involves all levels within that team. This piloting process more realistically simulates a company-wide OKR rollout because all levels of contributors are involved, enabling accurate reporting. Yet, the big risk with piloting OKRs at the department level is that it can reinforce silos. When starting with just one team, it causes a lack of cross-functional work due to the limitation of only one department. OKRs should be guided by strategic priorities, and contributors to each OKR should be drawn strategically from the different departments supporting that goal.
Pilot Option 3: Strategic Initiative
This pilot option is focused on a specific strategic initiative that helps progress the annual OKRs established by executives. This is oftentimes a product launch or tactical campaign and spans cross-functionally across several departments. OKRs are a great way to monitor progress towards a big goal and the benefit to this option is that it includes multiple functions across the organization. The drawback to this approach is that if the initiative’s stakeholder group is very large, it may be difficult to enable everyone on OKRs at the same time. Additionally, it may be a challenge to adequately train new users of the OKR methodology cross-functionally. Drawbacks aside, this is an excellent approach.
Whichever pilot option you choose, it will help you discover best practices within your organization and work out the kinks before involving the entire company.
Full Company Implementation (aka “big bang”)
When choosing a “big bang” OKR implementation, you roll out the framework to all of those within your organization who will be working on OKRs in one go. This generally works better with smaller organizations as there are fewer layers to work through. However, some big organizations choose to implement the big bang method to speed up the organizational-wide rollout of OKRs.
Big Bang Pros
Teamwork; everyone is in this together and on the same page
Aligned communication across the entire organization
Faster OKR rollout to the entire company
Big Bang Cons
Potentially challenging with larger organizations
OKRs aren’t easy, and many don’t get them right the first time
Loss of confidence in process if obstacles need to be overcome in the first implementation
What’s the best way
It ultimately depends on how you want to go about your OKR implementation as an organization. You should take into account the complexities of your organization, the capacity for change and consider any cultural implications when it comes to adapting to that change.
Research from the TBG and Koan 2020 Global OKR Report shows that organizations of 100 people or less have a much higher capacity for rapid change, and so had a preference towards opting for a big bang implementation. This being said it’s important to choose the option which is right for your organization.
Which path is right for you?
Supporting your pilot
Running a pilot allows you to understand the resources you’ll need to roll out your OKR implementation, from the teams and individuals to the software you’ll use to support you on your OKR journey.
And if you’re looking for an easy way to manage your OKRs, Koan now offers a free tier option, which allows you to focus on the implementation and let the software automate the tracking.
If you’re considering an OKR implementation and would like to boost your OKR skills, check out the OKR Coach Academy from TBG for OKR Coach Training courses which will help you lead an OKR implementation in your organization.