I was lucky enough to get the chance to speak with Teresa Torres recently. If you aren’t familiar with her, she teaches product teams how to infuse their daily product decisions with customer input. She’s coached hundreds of teams and is a proponent of the agile methodology. She also recently published a book! Teresa is generally an all-around Product badass.
As an engineer in a former life, I am familiar with the agile methodology and I was very curious about Teresa’s view of it through the lens of the OKR framework. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation….
Matt Tucker: There seems to be a lot of similarities between OKRs and Agile. Do you feel they can be supportive of one another? Or is it an either/or scenario?
Teresa Torres: OKRs and Agile are complementary. The Agile mindset encourages us to work in small batches, getting customer feedback often. OKRs give us a simple framework for setting goals. They combine a qualitative objective with quantitative key results. Key results help us track our progress as we work through Agile iterations.
MT: What do you say to a product manager that says they don’t need a roadmap because they already have OKRs? How do OKRs and roadmaps best work together?
TT: It depends on what we mean by a roadmap. If we are talking about a traditional roadmap where we commit to specific features by specific dates, I would agree with that product manager. Feature-based roadmaps need to go away. They assume we can predict the future, that we can accurately estimate unknown works, and that our features will have the expected impact.
However, teams do need a discovery roadmap. They need to be able to clearly communicate what they are learning, what opportunities they are considering, and what solutions they are pursuing. I like to use an opportunity solution tree for this purpose, as they help teams visually chart the best path to their desired outcome. I cover this tool in depth in my book Continuous Discovery Habits.
MT: Can you describe the role that retrospectives play in Agile and how teams can leverage this for continuous improvement?
TT: In a typical retrospective, teams reflect on what went well and what could have been better. This reflection is a key driver for continuous improvement. It gives the team ownership and responsibility for managing the way they work and reminds them to take the time to test new ways of working.
From a discovery standpoint, I like teams to also reflect on two additional questions. First, I encourage teams to ask, “What did we learn in this last sprint that surprised us?” This could be anything from a user story that took longer to implement than expected or a feature had less of an impact than expected. Then for each answer, they should ask, “How could we have learned that sooner?” This reflection will help them see gaps in their discovery process.
MT: We’ve seen a lot of agile coaches and practitioners expand their practice to help teams and organizations with OKRs. Why is this a natural fit?
TT: Again, OKRs help teams track their progress through Agile iterations. Without some way of tracking outcomes, it’s easy for teams to fall back into a feature factory mindset without being mindful of what impact those features are having. A release isn’t done until it creates value for a customer. Oftentimes, we have to iterate on a release before it delivers enough value.
MT: Have you noticed any interesting trends or changes in the Agile approach since the pandemic started and teams are predominantly working remotely now?
TT: Fortunately, we have great tools that help us collaborate remotely. I don’t see remote work having a big impact on an Agile mindset. An Agile team is continuously collaborating, working in small batches, getting customer feedback, and iterating. All of these activities can happen remotely.
MT: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today!
In case you’re interested in learning more from Teresa, check out the links below!
And if you’d like to hear additional perspectives on Agile and OKRs working together, feel free to check out this interview with Janna Bastow.