In summer 2020, the Technology and Development Unit decided on a new management model pilot for a hierarchical organisation.
The model soon got the name "OKR model", and it was launched in August in the unit with about 60 volunteer pilot group members.
As part of the management of the digital development of YLE, a goal-oriented management model had been proposed for discussion earlier in the spring. The development of operations and management to be even more agile and the creation of an overall view at the strategic level were identified as needs for development. This resulted in a concept in which the OKR model will be introduced alongside 1) a new balanced portfolio (development and innovation portfolio) and 2) a goal-oriented management model and 3) regular new routines to support this. The model brings shared feedback loops, retrospectives and other practices of continuous learning to cooperation between the strategic and operational levels.
The OKR philosophy has many similarities with agile and lean models
The OKR model for goal-oriented management was benchmarked in different sectors, both in Finland and internationally. OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. The model revolves around goals and indicators. The teams will consider what the concrete objectives are and how to achieve them (Key Results). The objectives do not describe the measures, but what kind of results or impacts we would like to achieve. Objectives and measures are coordinated with available resources (people and money).
The OKR philosophy has many similarities with business agility and lean (Hoshin Kanri). The purpose of the OKR framework is to clarify shared objectives for both management and employees. With the help of the OKR model, the strategy will be brought into practical action in fast cycles. The model is familiar to many large technology and digital service companies that use it in planning and steering operations. The setting of targets is done in 3 month cycles on average. Objectives at each level are aligned with those at the higher level. Teams and activities are involved in setting their own goals. All objectives are transparent to everyone throughout the organization. Teams and activities have the freedom and responsibility to develop measures to achieve their goals. The target level for achieving the key indicators of the objectives is 60-70%. This aims to promote ambitious target-setting and learning rather than playing it safe.
Instead of considering individual measures, more emphasis is placed on the results and impacts that we want to achieve
This concept was first tested at the Technology and Development Unit that has been involved in agile development for a long time. The OKR model identified the potential to scale agility to an enterprise level. The idea of the model also seemed to be a good starting point to take the unit's focus points forward: how to lead it from strategy to action on a daily basis. The unit's management focuses on autonomy. Therefore, the objectives must be clear and activities transparent. Instead of considering individual measures, more emphasis is placed on the results and impacts that we want to achieve. Business-level agility emphasises rapid management, guidance and learning cycles.
At the start of the Technology and Development unit’s pilot, a roadmap had been drawn up for the autumn and it was agreed that practice would show what works and what doesn’t. Experience and learning helped adjust the pilot. During the pilot, the unit also surveyed the participants about the possibilities of scaling the model.
The long-term objectives of the RD can be summarised in a couple of slogans: "Everything in the cloud in 2026 and space for new things by doing the current things 50% more efficiently.” In addition, the unit's operations are guided by Yle’s new strategy completed in the spring and an updated technology vision. At the level of the operating and steering model, questions emerged about how this (strategy) can then be achieved. The unit defined development focuses for 2021. They are directly reflected in the OKR objectives.
New regular weekly routines were introduced in the pilot starting from the management team
The actual OKR work was carried out in departments and teams. The policies had to be transformed into practical activities in the teams. What was completely new was how this "from strategy to action" model was applied systematically and regularly in the organisation. During the pilot, new regular weekly routines were introduced for everyone in the management team, such as examination of results and impacts and discussion in feedback loops. We created the "Result Map Days" for the teams participating in the pilot. During them, the teams worked together to increase transparency in their activities, demonstrate what we learned, and synchronise the OKR for the next period. The "observation classes" were everyday sparring sessions that discussed the challenges, objectives, and the design of the OKRs, and also provided personal support for learning the new model.
The experiences were so encouraging that after the pilot, it was decided to move it towards production. The OKR model was included in the steering of the activities of 2021 as a result of the Result Map Days held at the beginning of December. The development of the OKR model is expanding and deepening in the unit. We are at the beginning of the journey and there is still a lot to be done. Typically, it takes half a dozen OKR cycles to hone the model to perfection.
We have drafted the Minimum viable product (MVP) version of the unit's balanced portfolio and we will test it in 2021 in practice, in small steps, pieces at a time, experimenting. In order to support this, we will also include the balanced portfolio (unit development and innovation portfolio) in the review of the regular development and learning routines in line with the OKR. The hypothesis is that portfolios help in communication between different operators, prioritisation and decision-making. At best, portfolios based on the OKR can show whether we are moving towards strategic objectives and whether we are moving fast enough.
What lessons have been identified so far in feedback loops and retros?
At least, it is “easier to steer a moving horse”, so it is worth being brave when starting something new and learning along the way. Different management models and methods should be happily applied: you should never rely on theories too much. The simple application of the steering model is not enough - clear objectives and measures must back it up. In order for the change to begin, the objectives must also be guided by the use of time, as one OKR period (about 3 months) is a short time to do everything. Meeting practices must be changed and old practices terminated so that new leadership and thinking can take over.
OKR is a good facilitator of discussions and it helps to combine strategy and development in daily activities. During the pilot, the confidential atmosphere freed us to think bigger and radically. Agility is now being taken to a new level. The work is still practical and its motive is improving operations and management - not learning models.
The authors of this blog form a team that develops and enables the OKR model and remove obstacles from its way. More about the pilot in Yle Areena, the Agile demo recording.
Janne Yli-Äyhö, CTO of Yle
Sanna Tornivaara, Head of Technology Business Development
Mirette Kangas, Head of Lean and Agile Development at Yle