We ran a session last entitled “How to Run OKR sessions Remotely” due to the fact that many people found themselves suddenly working from home at the time when Q1 is ending and Q2 is beginning, which is also a time where Q1 OKRs are being wrapped up and Q2 OKRs are being drafted, and now it all has to be done remotely. We learned that an hour wasn’t enough time for an interactive co-learning session – we ran out of time for all of the questions to be answered, and promised the attendees that we’ll capture and answer all questions, risks and answers that were co-created here.

Difficult to plan with COVID-19 upon us

An understandable concern is that it is really hard to focus in the middle of a pandemic. Questions came up such as “we don’t know what’s going to happen next”, “It’s really difficult to set priorities because of the high uncertainty”, and “a confidence vote might be difficult.” Chipping into these comments the lingering feeling was wishing for certainty. Certainty that this novel virus would go away and that business will be “back to a predictable state.” The advice from the breakout room was:
to assume – and accept – unpredictability, thus stay agile with planning
fokus: control what you can, influence where you must, ignore the soup of distractions
shorten your iterations, make smaller experiments and learn as you go

The last bit of advice, and we know it’s difficult to do at times, is that it truly helps to keep a positive mental attitude and especially for leadership to create a space of psychological safety else no learning will happen.

Teaching OKRs to your team

There were a few questions raised around how to onboarding new folks to OKR’s remotely when it’s already a bit of a challenge when everyone is in the same room. The answers co-created by attendees was to share last quarter’s OKRs, share the OKR framework in advance, have a dedicated mentor role and consultation hour for helping people define their objectives and key results.

How to run a remote OKR retrospective for around 100 people

We all are having a hard time running retrospectives when working from home yet one participant brought up a tough one: how to do a Q1 retrospective in an online session with more than 100 people involved. In one of the follow up 20 minutes 1:1 coaching sessions, we came up with some ideas to try out:

Prepare

Reflect on what worked, what didn’t from doing these sessions formerly in a personal setup. Expect that problems, like low engagement with a large group of people will intensified.
Do a pre-mortem with the facilitator team to identify potential risks for the retrospective itself.
Involve leadership early on to set expectations of what could be the outcome and share the risks.

Design and Deliver the Session

Work asynchronously: Create a digital space to set the stage and gather insights in advance, e.g. set-up a FunRetro or Sli.do space to collect data from the participants. A timeline retrospective may be a good option to gather high- and low-light stories from all stakeholders of the retrospective.
Make the participation in the retro itself optional, so that people, who join are really engaged.
Limit the time of full plenum sessions. Make more time for distributed work in small groups to generate insights and decide what to do based on the data you’ve collected before. Use circle and soup to identify action items that are within the area of control. Close with a full plenum sharing of actions and commitments on a visual space.
Have dedicated timekeepers/facilitators within the small groups.

Learn

And last but not least, frame it as an experiment. Try out different grouping, e.g. highly diverse vs. works close together, different leadership levels vs. one level of influence – and expect that not all groups will succeed in coming up with an action, not all actions will lead to a positive outcome – and that’s Ok, als long as there is learning happening.

Keeping the team aligned

People may not be engage during the session

Use check-in and most importantly check-out from core protocols or create your own work culture that allows for being present with autonomy. Make sessions optional and use self assignment. Be clear on the objectives, to help people to be in. Check for the root causes of low engagement: lack of trust, lingering conflicts – low psychological safety and lack of purpose.

What if your vision isn’t inspiring

When you have no inspiring vision you will have no inspiring product. Expect that the impact of issues you already have will be amplified when going remote. And to be honest, you will need a strategy workshop to fix this with your leadership. When you have trouble with OKRs, and any agile planning framework, this may be just a symptom of the underlying problem of a weakness in vision and purpose.

Discussing Dependencies and Aligning would be most challenging remote, No transparency on dependencies

Try to make it visual, use the right level of Kanban to manage dependencies – or design them into your system of work to minimize alignment problems.

Who has to participate?

All the people who need to be aligned to deliver on the vision need to participate.

How to do alignment sessions for a large number of participants, How to keep everyone aligned?

Work in small groups, use synchronous sharing on digital, visual tools that support sense and decision making and have short sessions with full forum to update on main process and main goals – iterate within the team, top-down and bottom-up.

General tips for working remotely

I need double the amount of time

Work asynchronously, and expect things to go wrong. Make this transparent to everyone, to be part of a learning journey.

How to facilitate break out sessions or smaller groups if we don’t have Zoom

My company uses Google hangouts. Answer from a participant “You could use “unhangouts” (the open source version of hangouts created by MIT media lab). You can have breakout rooms there. https://bit.ly/unhangouts.” If this isn’t an option, and since this question was brought up when discussing the 100+ people retrospective, you could set up an agenda with a calendar, multiple online conference rooms and a shared spreadsheet.

How to engage everyone if switching on video for everybody is not an option due to bandwidth issues we experienced in our google hangouts with video

Get creative with visual work, e.g. share photos and take videos and share via chat. Take this issue seriously and upgrade bandwidth, don’t let this problem linger.

You can not work simultaneously

That’s a disadvantage as it is an advantage when working online together. Use asynchronous work time to prepare, gather data etc. to make the most of the live online situations. Just be mindful of the new time and space that emerges when working fully distributed – and have a working calendar.

Tools & Resources

Open source version of hangouts created by MIT media lab https://bit.ly/unhangouts
Team Lift-Off Cheat Sheet: https://docs.google.com/document/d/19HQISgnTTj1HPw9XeDKeminbv7IRLHa9b6MCqprfHDY/edit
Pre-Mortem: Daniel Kahnemann explains the premortem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzTNMalfyhM, Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2007/09/performing-a-project-premortem, Premortem preparation: https://www.riskology.co/pre-mortem-technique/
sli.do, mural.co for gathering data asynchronously
funretro.io or parabol.co for retrospectives
Core protocols for shared vision https://liveingreatness.com/core-protocols/
More tools to make remote product work work: https://docs.google.com/document/d/12WasRPqM5r8GTuE2e6o8m_llf93PzvEaHA8sev0N4e0/edit