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    May 31, 2023

    Rally OKRs vs. SAFe PI Objectives: The Differences, and Why They Matter

    The term “objective” is quite overloaded these days. It is used to refer to many different concepts, and this can cause confusion. One question I hear a lot is, “Can’t we just use Rally’s Objectives (OKRs) for our PI Objectives?” Or, alternatively, “Aren’t PI Objectives the same as OKRs?”

    In this article, we are going to show that while these terms share a critical keyword and a few other similar features, they are different, and not interchangeable.

    Let’s start by looking at each one, then focus on the differences between the two.

    SAFe PI Objectives

    First, here’s a definition of SAFe PI Objectives from the SAFe website: 

    “Planning Increment (PI) Objectives are a summary of the business and technical goals that an Agile Team or train intends to achieve in the upcoming Planning Increment (PI). During PI Planning, teams create PI objectives, which are the things they intend to accomplish in the upcoming Program Increment (PI).”
    © Scaled Agile, Inc.

    From this definition, we can see a few things. First, PI Objectives summarize a team’s goals for a specific Planning Increment (PI). There is a common misconception that PI Objectives guide teams toward what they should do in a PI. In fact, they summarize what a team will do—what they have committed to do—in a PI. This distinction is important.

    PI Objectives are created during PI Planning, after teams decide what they will commit to in the PI. Why would you create an objective after you have decided what you will do—is that even necessary? Clues abound in the discussion on PI Objectives on the SAFe website, where the word “communicate” shows up several times.

    Teams in an Agile Release Train (ART) write PI Objectives to communicate their “intent” for a PI to the Business Owners. Those Business Owners then rate the business value of that intent. The Business Owners do this first, right after PI Planning, to create a Planned Business Value (BV). Basically, the Business Owners are saying that if the team achieves this PI Objective (let’s call it <PI Obj A>), they expect it will have this value for the business.

    Business Owners perform this rating activity again after the System Demo, which produces an Actual Business Value for each PI Objective. Because this value is based on what the team built for <PI Obj A>, the Business Owners are saying that they believe it has this actual value for the business.

    Finally, the ratio of the Actual BV to the Planned BV (Actual BV/Planned BV x 100) is used to calculate the ART Predictability Measure metric. This metric is tracked from PI to PI for each team and for the ART as a whole. The following diagram from the SAFe 6.0 website shows an example, with Planned (EV) and Actual (AV) values. We can see that the ART Predictability Measure is 90%.

    ESD_FY23_Academy-Blog.Rally OKRs vs SAFe PI Objectives - The Differences, and Why They Matter.Figure 1

    SAFe PI Objectives really are a way to measure the effectiveness of communication and collaboration between Business Owners and the ART, via the ART Predictability Measure.

    Rally objectives

    Now, let’s cover Rally Objectives.

    In Rally, Objectives implement the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) model originally popularized by John Doerr.

    In this model, Objectives are straightforward, qualitative statements of a team’s goals. Each Objective has Key Results, which are quantitative measures that, if met, indicate that the goal has been achieved.

    OKRs are a goal setting framework, and as such, they inform and drive the work that teams will do in an OKR Cycle, which is typically one quarter. They are created before a team begins that work and aligned with the overall Objectives of the larger organization. OKRs guide teams on what work they should do and help them prioritize one work item over another. While there may be “business as usual” tasks that a team must do, which won’t be covered by an OKR, the most important activities a team does should align with that team’s OKRs.

    In Rally, the relationship between an Objective and Work is configurable. A simple use case in Rally might look something like this: 

    ESD_FY23_Academy-Blog.Rally OKRs vs SAFe PI Objectives - The Differences, and Why They Matter.Figure 2

    The verdict: Rally objectives are not PI objectives

    Now that we’ve described each type of objective, it should be clear that while they are both called “objectives,” they are not the same. They were developed with very different purposes in mind. Rally Objectives (OKRs) implement a goal setting framework that drives the work teams do. On the other hand, SAFe PI Objectives support a metric that measures effectiveness of communication and collaboration between Business Owners and ARTs.

    What does Scaled Agile, Inc. (SAI), the creator of SAFe, say about using OKRs as PI Objectives? They recommend against it. They have published a very good article on using OKRs in SAFe. In that article, they identified three strong use cases for OKRs in the SAFe framework:

    1. Enhancing strategic alignment across a SAFe portfolio
    2. Defining business outcomes for epics and lean business cases
    3. Setting improvement goals for the SAFe transformation

    We agree with this article and note that Rally Objectives can be easily and effectively used for all three use cases that the SAI describes.

    Conclusion

    We have two items, with very similar names—in fact, they are both called objectives.

    But, after the discussion above, it should be clear that Rally Objectives and SAFe PI Objectives aren’t the same. Agile teams use them in very different ways and for different purposes.

    Keep the differences in mind and choose the one that is right for the job. If you do, you will find that your objectives—whatever those are—will be easier to see and achieve. 

     

    Tag(s): ValueOps , Rally , OKRs

    Ian McGinnis

    Ian McGinnis is an architect of agile solutions with over 30 years of experience in software development. At Rally, he serves as an Executive Advisor, working directly with Fortune 100 companies to help them adopt true business agility. Ian is passionate about helping organizations figure out how to make business...

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