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How to Align OKRs with Product Strategy and Business Objectives

17 Jul 20238 mins read
Adam Thomas
How to Align OKRs with Product Strategy and Business Objectives
By Adam Thomas

Organizations have goals. However, finding a way to communicate and act on those goals requires a framework to drive alignment consistently for teams. Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) have emerged as a popular goal-setting framework that enables companies to define and measure progress for one or many teams toward their strategic targets. 

OKRs provide a structured and transparent way to align individual and team goals with the broader mission of the organization. Product strategy provides a way to connect the OKR and the product vision to the problems the teams need to solve. Business objectives are the connecting tissue to the rest of the organization, how does our work translate into revenue?

okr tracking

One of the key challenges organizations face is aligning their OKRs with product strategy and business objectives. 

This article will explore the importance of this alignment and provide insights into how organizations can effectively align their OKRs with product strategy and business objectives.


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Understanding OKRs

OKRs are a goal-setting framework that helps teams and organizations define and measure their progress toward ambitious goals. 

There are two parts to OKRs:

Objective:  Objectives define the high-level goals that an individual or team aims to achieve. An objective is framed in a way that allows teams to try different methods to achieve the goal while giving those who work on the goal a frame of reference. They are qualitative and aspirational, answering what needs to be accomplished. 

Key Results: The frame of reference is supported by key results - metrics that help the team understand if the objective is achieved through measurement. Key Results are specific and measurable outcomes that define the progress toward the objectives.  Key Results provide a quantitative way to track and evaluate the achievement of objectives. 

OKRs help align teams by being descriptive, not prescriptive. However, therein lies the issue - aligning OKRs with product strategy and business objectives can be challenging. They require knowledge of customer needs, market trends, company vision, and the product itself. If the strategy isn’t clear in itself, then the work to create an OKR will be an uphill journey.

One of the primary differences between OKRs and traditional goal-setting frameworks is their emphasis on ambitious and stretch goals. OKRs encourage organizations to set challenging objectives that push the boundaries of what is currently achievable. This approach fosters innovation, learning, and growth within teams and organizations. Additionally, OKRs are designed to be transparent and accessible to everyone in the organization, promoting alignment and collaboration.

Effective OKRs are outcome-focused, concentrating on the desired impact rather than just the output. For example, instead of setting an objective to "Increase website traffic," an effective OKR would be "Drive 20% increase in website conversions by the end of the quarter." This shift in focus ensures that OKRs drive meaningful results and impact the bottom line.

OKR setting measurement

Defining product strategy and business objectives

To align OKRs with product strategy and business objectives, it's essential to understand the concepts of product strategy and business objectives.

Product strategy encompasses the problems that the company has decided to take on, the resources available to tackle those problems, and the bets the team intends to take to solve those problems. 

Product strategy creation involves defining the target market, identifying customer needs, and outlining the product's unique value proposition. Product strategy guides the development, launch, and evolution of a product. It aligns the product with the organization's vision and goals and ensures that the product delivers value to customers.

Business objectives, on the other hand, are the high-level goals that an organization sets to achieve its overall mission and vision. These objectives are broader in scope and encompass various aspects of the business, such as revenue growth, market expansion, customer satisfaction, or operational efficiency. Business objectives provide a strategic direction for the organization and serve as a compass for decision-making.

Effective product strategies and business objectives are aligned with the organization's vision and mission.  For example, a product strategy might be "Expand market share by launching a new product line targeting a younger demographic segment," a business objective could be "Increase annual revenue by 15% within the next fiscal year."

Bad strategy

Aligning OKRs with product strategy and business objectives

Aligning OKRs with product strategy and business objectives is crucial to ensure that teams' efforts directly contribute to the overall organizational goals. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to achieve this alignment:

  1. Understand the product strategy and business objectives: Start by thoroughly understanding the product strategy and business objectives. This requires collaboration and communication between product teams, business leaders, and stakeholders. 

  2. Define objectives and key results: Once the product strategy and business objectives are clear, define the objectives and key results that align with them. Ensure that the objectives are challenging, yet achievable, and that the key results are measurable and directly contribute to the desired outcomes.

  3. Establish clear linkages: Identify the connections between the objectives and key results of the OKRs and the product strategy and business objectives. Clearly articulate how achieving the OKRs will contribute to the success of the product strategy and the organization. 

  4. Foster collaboration: Encourage collaboration and cross-functional communication among teams to ensure that OKRs are being pursued collectively. Collaboration helps identify potential dependencies, synergies, and opportunities for joint efforts that can further enhance the alignment between OKRs and product strategy.

  5. Regularly track and measure progress: Establish a system for tracking and measuring progress towards the OKRs. This can include regular check-ins, progress updates, and data-driven assessments of key results. Regular monitoring ensures transparency, accountability, and the ability to make timely adjustments if needed.

  6. Revisit and refine: Continuously revisit and refine the OKRs to ensure they remain aligned with evolving product strategies and business objectives. As market conditions, customer needs, or business priorities change, it is important to adjust the OKRs accordingly to stay on track and maximize impact.

Challenges in aligning OKRs with product strategy and business objectives

If you notice, that’s a pretty big ask. 

That’s why you need to limit the number of OKRs that exist in a company. In fact, start with one OKR across the company.  Our brains are limited; we, as humans, can only contain a limited amount of information in our heads at once.  An OKR asks someone to hold at least 3 (an objective -1, 2 KRs). 

While the limit can be constraining, the power of starting with one will help you understand how those six steps affect your company. When teams do too much too fast, you end up with OKR theatre - where OKRs spend half of the quarter on 0% - the next 8 weeks on 20%, and magically get done in the last 2 weeks of the quarter. 

No one did anything but make everyone “feel good.”

Other than that, here are some other things that can cause trouble. 

Aligning OKRs with product strategy and business objectives can be challenging due to various factors. Some common challenges include:

  • Lack of clarity: If the product strategy or business objectives are not clearly defined or communicated, it becomes difficult to align the OKRs effectively. It is crucial to have a shared understanding of the goals and strategies before attempting to align the OKRs.

Solution: Foster open communication channels and promote clarity by involving key stakeholders in the goal-setting process. Encourage discussions, ask clarifying questions, and seek alignment across teams and departments.

  • Siloed mindset: When teams operate in silos, they may create their own OKRs without considering the broader organizational objectives. This can lead to misalignment and suboptimal utilization of resources.

Solution: Encourage cross-functional collaboration and promote a shared sense of purpose. Break down silos by facilitating regular meetings, establishing forums for knowledge sharing, and encouraging collaboration across teams.

  • Lack of flexibility: Strict adherence to predefined OKRs without allowing flexibility can hinder alignment. Market dynamics and business priorities may change during the OKR cycle, requiring adjustments to the goals.

Solution: Embrace agility and be open to adapting OKRs as needed. Encourage teams to regularly assess progress, share learnings, and make necessary adjustments to ensure alignment with evolving strategies and objectives.

product team formal

Examples of companies aligning OKRs with product strategy and business objectives

Several companies have successfully aligned their OKRs with product strategy and business objectives.

Google: Google sets ambitious OKRs that align with their mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible. Their OKRs focus on improving search algorithms, enhancing user experience, and expanding into new markets. By aligning their OKRs with their product strategy and business objectives, Google has been able to achieve significant growth and innovation.

Airbnb: Airbnb's product strategy revolves around creating a seamless and personalized travel experience for their users. Their OKRs align with this strategy by focusing on metrics such as guest satisfaction, host engagement, and revenue growth. This alignment ensures that their product development efforts directly contribute to their business objectives of providing a top-notch travel platform.

The benefits achieved by companies that successfully align their OKRs with product strategy and business objectives are significant. These benefits include:

  1. Clarity and focus: Alignment ensures that every team and individual understands how their work contributes to the larger goals of the organization. It provides clarity on priorities and focuses efforts towards achieving the most impactful outcomes.

  2. Improved collaboration: Aligning OKRs fosters cross-functional collaboration and breaks down departmental silos. When teams share a common understanding of the goals and work towards a shared purpose, collaboration becomes more effective, leading to better outcomes.

  3. Efficient resource allocation: By aligning OKRs with product strategy and business objectives, organizations can optimize resource allocation. They can allocate resources and investments strategically, ensuring that they are directed towards initiatives that directly contribute to the overall objectives.

  4. Agility and adaptability: Aligning OKRs enables organizations to respond quickly to changing market conditions and business priorities. It allows for flexibility in adjusting goals and strategies to stay aligned with the evolving landscape.

  5. Motivation and engagement: Clear alignment between OKRs, product strategy, and business objectives creates a sense of purpose and meaning for employees. When individuals understand how their work impacts the success of the organization, they are motivated and engaged, leading to higher productivity and satisfaction.

Aligning OKRs with product strategy and business objectives is essential for organizations seeking to drive meaningful progress and achieve their goals. It ensures that teams' efforts are focused on the most critical outcomes and directly contribute to the overall success of the organization. 

airfocus helps organizations align by connecting the dots by having a single source of truth. By connecting your roadmap to the objectives and having clear connectors to business strategy and OKRs, the work your teams are doing are much easier to communicate to the rest of the business, driving alignment and trust.

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By following a systematic approach to align OKRs, organizations can foster collaboration, improve resource allocation, and adapt to changing circumstances. Companies like Google and Airbnb serve as inspiring examples of the benefits that can be achieved through effective alignment. 

To implement these strategies successfully, organizations can leverage tools like airfocus, which provides a comprehensive framework for setting and aligning goals. Embracing the alignment of OKRs with product strategy and business objectives will enable organizations to thrive in a dynamic and competitive business landscape.

Adam Thomas

Adam Thomas

Lead Product Manager @ SmartRecruiters
Adam Thomas is a technologist and product management expert based in Harlem, NY. He’s passionate about social justice and the behavioral psychology at work within product teams....more
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