What’s the most popular OKR tool? For most teams making their initial foray into Objectives and Key Results, it’s the spreadsheet—and it’s a fine place to start. But then the company grows, and once-clear alignment descends into an increasingly unreliable tangle. You’ve outgrown the spreadsheet. What comes next?
Just like the OKR framework itself, OKR software is a means to end. An ideal tool will build and reinforce great practices while fitting in seamlessly with the way your team already works. And a successful evaluation should always begin with the results you’re out to achieve. Some of the questions you should be asking as you evaluate different OKR tools include:
- is it easy to use?
- does it tell the whole story?
- will it scale?
- does it reinforce OKR best practices?
- does it inspire the right conversations?
Here’s how those questions may play out in practice.
Which OKR tool is easiest to use?
Writing effective OKRs is hard. Even harder is keeping them up to date, but this is where a dedicated OKR tool can really shine. By pairing updates with the natural heartbeat of your team, software tools can begin forming habits that keep key results updated, trustworthy, and actionable.
Of course, it only works if people actually use it. It’s easy to lose an OKR process in a sea of features and unnecessary complexity, and team members that can’t update their OKRs or check status quickly will resent being saddled with “yet another tool.” Great OKR tools start simple and only reveal complexity on demand. OKRs are all about achieving results—not training your team on new software—and any tool you choose should support you in that.
Will the tool tell the whole story?
OKR dogma does little to discourage the notion that the status of an entire business can be collapsed into numbers—namely, the quantitative measures of its Key Results.
As you’re evaluating OKR tools, though, make sure you’ll have access to meaningful insights from the people actually doing the work. There’s a qualitative story behind each Key Result, and as issues arise or stretch goals are blown out of the water, you’ll want to be able to dive in and read it.
Many OKR tools will begin with the quantitative summary—as Marissa Mayer famously said, "If it doesn’t have a number, it’s not a Key Result.”—but if all you get is the number, you’re missing out on the critical insights that accompany it.
Which OKR tools work best at scale?
One of the OKR framework’s greatest strengths is its flexibility. Whether you’re five employees or five thousand; a traditional hierarchy or a cross-functional matrix; pods, squads, teams, cells, or tribes; OKRs can communicate business strategy and help drive great results. Your OKR tool should, too. As you’re considering an OKR tool, be sure to ask:
- can we link Objectives and Key Results across teams and functions?
- can our different business units set their own timelines?
- are there any limitations on who will lead—or report on—each OKR?
- is there a clear path towards our future needs?
Hopefully the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”—the tool can meet your present needs with enough flexibility to accommodate whatever changes lie ahead.
Which OKR tools reinforce best practices?
You’ll find many different opinions about the best way to organize, schedule, and run strategy within the flexible OKR framework. Still, OKR practitioners tend to agree on at least a few core principles. They’ll tell you to:
- focus on outcomes
- quantify key results
- set objectives from the bottom up
- avoid dependent, “cascading” tree structures
- share OKRs across the company
- collect frequent feedback
Sound familiar? Every OKR tool should be able to handle the basic accounting, but in an organization with a robust, well-established OKR process that may be enough. The best OKR tools will go further, reinforcing best practices and building effective OKR processes at every step of the way.
Which tools inspire the right conversations?
Modern leaders understand the importance of collecting feedback and inspiring initiative at every level of the organization. OKRs can lend context and a forum for hierarchy-bending conversations—but only if everyone can discover and engage with them. At a minimum, a good OKR tool should help everyone:
- communicate status across the organization
- highlight issues before they become problems
- discuss and collaborate on relevant objectives
OKRs are meant to be shared, discussed, referenced, and acted upon. Getting the most from them means doing away with a closed dialog between employees and their managers and sparking open conversations at every level of the company.
The OKR framework is a powerful, flexible way to align your business strategy. A great OKR tool should never hold it back. As you’re considering your options, asking a few simple questions will lead you to a fantastic tool
Psst, just getting started? Koan’s simple, beautiful OKRs are a great way to begin turning strategy into results!