All Together Now: How OKRs and strategic portfolio management help make the right IT investments

Thinking of using OKRs to drive your company’s IT investments? If so, you’ll also need a way to document your strategy—by adopting an enterprise architecture-based strategic portfolio management, or SPM, solution.

Paula Ziehr Paula Ziehr

“One, two, three, four, can I have a little more?” So begins The Beatles’ All Together Now, a lighthearted number that appears on the group’s tenth studio album, Yellow Submarine. Sung by Paul McCartney atop a grainy acoustic guitar, the verse is part of a track that’s meant to be a children’s sing-along. Yet its lyrics also have lessons for leaders in IT.

Demands from business for “a little more,” after all, are regular fixtures in the life of any IT manager. For most, however, satisfying every request would be far too much to handle. How should decision makers best choose which demands to accept and turn into IT projects? As an IT executive, how can you optimize the business value of your technology investments, and ensure your applications, processes and projects are working now—and all together?

One way is by turning to objectives and key results, or OKRs. Companies embracing OKRs first choose objectives that serve as sweeping goals that define company direction. They then define desired key results, or milestones, in support of those objectives that can easily be measured. OKRs have been around for decades, but they’ve gained popularity over the last few years, helping enterprises across a range of industries set better, more unified goals, and deliver on their execution. OKRs can also drive IT strategy. As Forrester notes in a 2021 report, OKRs are an ideal way to “support IT’s ability to identify investments that will deliver effective outcomes and deliver those outcomes more efficiently.”

Are you thinking of using OKRs to drive your company’s IT investments? If so, you’ll also need a way to document your strategy—and manage the change needed to best align your IT portfolio with your business objectives. The best way to do this is by adopting an enterprise architecture-based strategic portfolio management, or SPM, solution. This will enable you to visualize how your different OKRs are linked to your overarching vision. And ultimately ensure your IT and business goals are in sync.

Deciding which demands to act on

Whether you’re already using OKRs or finally discovering their potential, you’re in good company. OKRs date back to the early 1970s, when Andy Grove, an executive at Intel, coined the term to describe his unique approach to management. The OKR framework not only helped Intel become the world’s largest manufacturer of microchips. It also powered the revolution in computer processing that has dramatically changed the world of electronics as we know it.

More recently, companies like Google, Facebook and Netflix have utilized OKRs to redefine the way we access information, connect with our social networks and seek out entertainment. Bono, the rock star turned humanitarian, has even turned to OKRs to help fight global poverty. As he puts it, OKRs enable the “heart to find a perfect rhyme with the head” by translating passion into concrete actions.

The folks at Forrester concur. The company’s report, Use OKRs to Optimize Business Value of Technology Investments, details how OKRs can provide “strategic focus”—through objectives that can unite the whole organization and key results that identify the “most important, measurable actions required to achieve your goal within a defined period.” As the report describes, OKRs promote company-wide accountability by making performance measures transparent. They also make KPIs—the metrics that show how well a company is achieving its objectives—more useful by making them more focused. All of this, in turn, helps companies decide which business demands to act on—and ultimately support those demands with the right IT investment decisions.

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Sailing into the future

Do OKRs sound like they could translate passion into action for your business? Can they help you decide when IT should give a little more and when it shouldn’t? If so, you’ll need a way to document your OKRs and align them with your overarching vision. This is where your company can benefit from an EA-based SPM solution. Adopting an SPM tool will give you the ability to visualize not only objectives and key results—but the related business capabilities, strategic themes, and KPIs that will put your IT on a path toward achieving the goals of business. It will enable you to see the cost, complexity and feasibility of a proposed IT change—information that is essential when choosing the technologies that support your vision for the future.

To understand the value of EA-based SPM, it may be helpful to return to The Beatles: after McCartney’s opening lines of All Together Now, John Lennon jumps in with a bridge that begins with “sail the ship.” For the astute IT manager, these lyrics also resonate. Far too often, companies that make investment decisions without an SPM approach become like a ship lost at sea. By wasting funds on investments that fail to drive competitive advantage, carrying out projects with a high risk of failure, and investing in IT that’s misaligned with the priorities of business, they have no clear path toward their destination. By taking an SPM approach to capturing your OKRs and building the right IT needed to achieve them, you’ll guarantee your ship sails into the harbor. And since OKRs ensure all stakeholders are attuned to the same business vision, all your passengers will still be on board.

Are you ready to embrace SPM to make sure you’re sailing toward the future that your OKRs envision? We invite you to learn more about Alfabet, Software AG’s industry-leading strategic portfolio management solution, which just might be the tool to bring your IT all together.