Chapter 7: Software to help your organization get aligned
We created this section to help you choose which tool is right for your company. The right tool depends on your business and the needs it has. You can find a complete listing of every organizational alignment tool on the market here.
While we are one of the software vendors listed in this section, our goal is not to tell you which tool to pick. There is no overall best product because each company that adopts an alignment tool has unique needs. We recommend reading about each of the tools below before deciding which product is best for your company.
This list includes the most popular and well-established tools in this list, but it is not comprehensive. Many of the tools we list help companies implement the Objectives & Key Results framework, which is the most popular framework represented by specialized software tools on the market. We maintain a separate list of every alignment tool in existence, which is worth checking out if you’re looking for alternatives.
Each of the tools we’ve included in this section has corresponding analysis. Our analysis of the pros and cons of each tool is based on:
- our experience working with companies on organizational alignment. We attempt to highlight specific issues and considerations with each product that may make the product useful for some organizations but not others.
- our experience using the product first-hand (when possible).
- a relative comparison of products. Our bias is towards strong usability (UX), performance (speed), flexibility, and completeness.
- third-party reviews on G2, Capterra, and SoftwareReviews
Due to the restrictive nature of some of the products we mention below, we were unable to test every single product. Instead, we spent hours looking at publicly available demos, screenshots, and customer reviews to articulate each product’s capabilities.
In general, we recommend trying the product before committing to a contract with a vendor (or even rolling it out to your entire company). In many cases, you’ll need to sign up for a demo with a salesperson to see the product for yourself; in other cases, like with Minsilo and Asana, you can enroll in a free trial or free version of the product.
Why even use specialized software?
It’s true: most of the methodologies that we’ve listed in this guide can be implemented using a simple spreadsheet that is emailed out to the team and company. However, we rarely recommend using spreadsheets for managing alignment. Spreadsheets are too limited and (typically) too disorganized to use it as a useful tool for actively managing alignment; spreadsheets are better for point-in-time analysis of alignment.
We’re not the first to identify the shortcomings of spreadsheets for managing alignment. Most of the vendors we list below mention the advantages of using their tool over spreadsheets in their marketing materials. This is not just an excuse to justify their existence: there are some serious caveats to using non-specialized software.
To put this in perspective, Google developed an in-house tool for tracking OKRs, because they realized that even using Google Sheets was inadequate for managing their goals.
Why spreadsheets and email are not sufficient for managing alignment
Here are some of the problems with using spreadsheets and email to manage alignment:
- Data collection and reporting are difficult. For complex operations, data collection and status reporting can take several hours per week. For most teams, this is a poor use of time, detracting from the team’s focus on actual work.
- Versioning of spreadsheets becomes a hassle. As a spreadsheet recipient, you can never be certain you have the latest copy (unless you just received it from the author). It can also be challenging to visualize change over time because each spreadsheet is a snapshot in time (this problem is less pronounced with cloud-based spreadsheet tools).
- Regularly adding data from different sources is difficult, especially when the data comes from many people. For offline spreadsheet applications, this means someone has to be responsible for managing the spreadsheet and updating the information in it; everybody needs to send that person their contribution to the data for it to get included. Cloud-based spreadsheet applications are better in this regard, but still are difficult to manage with many people.
- Links between strategy, goals, and execution cannot be easily made with a spreadsheet. Since spreadsheets are non-relational, you cannot easily see how something relates to another table or store information along with the link. Data has to be manually copied between the places it is used, which is exceptionally error-prone and time-consuming. These links are also difficult to impossible to analyze when stored in this way.
- Spreadsheets are difficult to manage for a large organization. With a large number of goals, there’s no easy way to get an aggregate view of the organization since spreadsheets do not scale well beyond a few users per workbook.
What about Smartsheet, Airtable, or Notion?
Tools like Smartsheet, Airtable, and Notion have gained popularity in recent years, owing to their flexibility as robust no-code solutions. Many companies use these tools to create dashboards and internal applications (at least ones that can be built without dedicated software developers). Visually, these tools look like spreadsheets but are actually basic relational databases.
As relational databases, these tools excel at storing relationships between rows in different tables. Thus, relational databases are well suited to model alignment data. In tools like Smartsheet and Airtable, unlike traditional database software, much of the complexity of managing this is hidden away under the user-friendly interface. There’s no need to write SQL queries or construct a robust database schema.
Despite the technical ability to store alignment data, there are a few reasons why specialized tools are still better than an in-house solution built in Airtable or Smartsheet.
- These tools do not automate the process of alignment. Things like standard reports, reminders, and check-ins all have to be managed manually. This alone adds to the total cost of using generic tools for managing alignment.
- Neither tool makes storing supplementary alignment data easy. This means any supporting documentation (even just a simple explanation of why something is misaligned) cannot be stored alongside the relationship between items in the application.
- Generic tools have a tendency to be overly verbose, making it difficult for non-expert users to find the information they need. At the very least, in-house tools require specialized training, especially when they weren’t designed by an expert usability team.
- Both Airtable and Smartsheet do not have good support for rich text content in cells. Notion is great in this regard, but much less powerful than Airtable and Smartsheet. The omission of rich text data handling makes it difficult to store documentation of alignment data.
- In-house tools built in Smartsheet and Airtable lack fine-grained permissioning (access control). While it is possible to
- Each team needs their own Smartsheet or Airtable document. This makes managing multiple teams a challenge, because the data is now in a team-specific silo.
- Updates to the underlying alignment system built on Airtable or Smartsheet becomes nearly impossible once the databases are rolled out. Even if you use a template to share the system within an organization, changes to the template are not reflected in the existing copies. In the long run, this can lead to problems where these systems become the dreaded “legacy” internal systems that are mission-critical but unchangeable. Unfortunately, when that system is integral to your organization’s successful operation, it can lead to a difficult choice of starting over or refusing to change business processes because of the difficulty. Given that the field of alignment is still evolving (there’s still so much we don’t know), it’s hard to create a system once and use it forever.
Perhaps most importantly, the cost of building an in-house solution is far greater than it appears on the surface. While the ongoing cost may be low (neither Smartsheet and Airtable are free), the total cost of ownership (TCO) can be much higher. In a medium-to-large organization, the management of this system can easily cost $150K+ per year (and higher if external consultants are used).
Why are there so many tools for alignment?
It’s no secret: there are a lot of alignment tools out there. Not all of them recognize themselves as alignment tools, but at least one of their major use cases is alignment of teams. But the question we hear often is, “why are there so many?”
One reason is that there are dozens of methodologies out there. Most are tangentially related to organizational alignment (such as OKRs), but a few are explicitly focused on managing alignment (such as Balanced Scorecard, Hoshin-Kanri, and the Alignment Management Methodology). Each methodology has its own set of assumptions about the organization that uses it.
In recent times, the Objective & Key Results framework has become the most popular alignment framework that vendors are building software for. This is partly due to the explosive growth that OKRs have had over the past five years. Companies of all sizes have started adopting OKRs, for a few reasons, including:
- Being worried about meeting performance goals and seeing OKRs as a system for improving performance and achieving alignment.
- Seeing successful organizations using OKRs and aspiring to be like these organizations.
- They’ve lost focus in the increasing chaos of the always-on, constantly distracted, and endless opportunity work environment we have today.
The growth of companies adopting OKRs has undoubtedly impacted the number of vendors offering software for managing OKRs. Another reason is just how easy it is to create a basic OKR tool. It does not require a high level of sophistication to create a basic OKR tool (it’s just a database and some forms) from a technical perspective. The complexity lies in automating the alignment process, building a great user experience, interfacing with third-party tools, and managing this data securely at-scale.
What to consider when choosing a solution
There are several things to consider when choosing an organizational alignment tool. Here’s a list of questions that we recommend asking for each tool that you evaluate:
- Why is the actual problem the tool is trying to solve?
- What methodology(s) does the tool support?
- How does the tool perform? Are they fast or too slow to work with? Slow software can lead to abandonment by individuals adopting them.
- How is the interface organized? Can people easily navigate it and understand where the information they need is?
- How are people kept engaged? Is the tool just a glorified form or does it have features that help foster engagement with the alignment process?
- How large does the roll out the product need to be? Does the whole company need to adopt the tool at the onset, or can it be used in a single team?
In addition, there are a few things to keep in mind when evaluating the product and the company behind the product:
- Are you buying a product from a leader or a follower? Does the company demonstrate thought leadership, or are they copying another company’s implementation?
- Where is the product headed? What is the vendor’s vision for the product in the future? How will the product continue to get better?
- How easy it is it to work with the company? Are they responsive to issues? Are they effective at addressing issues?
- Can you try the product without talking to a salesperson? Without committing to a pilot? How easy is it to get started with the product?
After answering each of these questions, be sure to evaluate the answers you have for each vendor carefully. One of the biggest mistakes a buyer of alignment software can make is picking a tool just because it is popular. Alignment software is an investment of time and money. Buyers should always ask themselves: if I invest in this software, will it get used, will it continue to be used into the future, and does it help us improve alignment (today and into the future)?
It’s more than just software
We’re cautious about solutions that blindly follow an existing and proven methodology without taking the pains and effort to master the domain of alignment management. It’s not that OKRs are a bad choice — far from it — but it’s not a “silver bullet” or “magic elixir” for every team alignment issue.
Alignment is complex and fundamentally about human behavior. No methodology or software tool will solve every alignment problem, and we’re far from artificial intelligence capable of replacing humans in people management. Alignment tools are exactly that: tools. We think it’s critical for buyers of these tools to partner with a company that understands the problem space, not just how to follow an existing design.
What about consultants
Given the complex and human nature of alignment, it’s no surprise that even with countless tools for aligning people, consultants still reign supreme when addressing organizational alignment. While the role of consultants continue to change, we think that they can be a valuable part of the process for aligning an organization and can be a great asset to have in conjunction with software.
Not all companies can or should hire consultants to help them with alignment. In particular, smaller companies with limited budgets should consider alternatives to hiring consultants. One alternative is to buy from a vendor who will help a smaller buyer implement the product. Implementation support can come in many forms, including:
- customized training (on-site or over a video conferencing tool)
- a written tutorial and excellent documentation
- YouTube videos
- a robust onboarding process (not just one focused on helping people set up their account)
For companies in a position to consider hiring a consultant, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- What specifically am I looking to accomplish with a consultant? Is there a new alignment system that our organization needs help implementing, or do we need help selecting one in the first place?
- What type of consultant are we looking to hire? Do we want help with developing a strategy or implementing an existing strategy? In general, implementation consultants cost less than management consultants.
- What will the cost of hiring an outside consultant be?
- What alternatives do we have available to us instead of consultants? Which one has a better return on investment?
- What will the deliverable and outcome of the consultant’s work be? Will they leave behind a presentation or report?
- Who will the consultant work within our organization? How far does their reach need to be (e.g., are they just working with the executive team, or do they need to work with several frontline individual contributors)?
Based on experience, our general recommendation is to consider taking a hybrid approach: work with consultants to help set up systems and tools that can continue to benefit the company long after the engagement is over. The more you can increase the likelihood that a successful consulting project can stick with the organization, the higher chance it will have a positive ROI.
When done correctly, consultants can be an invaluable resource that can accelerate alignment and drive performance. Be deliberate and intentional when considering a consultant to help you align your organization.
Top Organizational Alignment Software Tools
Here are some of the top organizational alignment tools on the market. For each of the selected products, we describe the product’s:
- pros & cons
- target user (who it’s for)
- key features
- supported methodologies
- pricing & availability While we attempt to be thorough, we recommend checking out each of the products for yourself. The best choice depends on your business and alignment strategy.
Minsilo is an autonomous team management platform. It is designed to help teams connect their work to the big picture, ensuring alignment with organizational priorities. It allows managers to focus more on strategy and less on day-to-day operations. Minsilo was founded in 2015.
- The onboarding process is simple and engaging. It doesn’t take much pre-existing knowledge to get started. The onboarding process uses artificial intelligence to help you write better goals automatically.
- Robust accountability tools using the RACI framework.
- Library of templates for strategy, purpose, and goals.
- Allows collaborating on goals, strategies, and purpose documents with others in real-time (similar to Office 365 and Google Docs).
- Designed to help individual contributors spend less time in meetings and focus on the activities that drive value for the business.
- Works with Jira, Trello, Slack, GitHub, and Gitlab. More integrations are expected in the future.
- No vendor lock-in. You can export your data at any time for free.
- No built-in project management features. It is designed primarily to integrate with existing project management software.
- No todo list capability.
- Goals and KPIs need to be updated manually. This improves engagement at the expense of the time necessary to manage the tool.
- Reports are limited in its current iteration.
- No native mobile app. Users only have the option of using a web-based version of the app on mobile.
Who it’s for
- Individual managers
- Specific use cases for growing startups (20+ people), established companies (>5 years old; 250+ people), remote teams
- Companies that follow the Agile methodology
- Companies that prioritize transparency and a “default to open”.
- Companies that plan to use a separate project management tool. Minsilo does not replace existing project management software.
Minsilo follows the Alignment Management Methodology. As such, the product has the following key features:
- Context — acts as a single source of truth for strategy, purpose (mission, vision, values, etc.), strategic goals, and KPIs.
- Contributions — captures work done by a team (either through manually posting updates or automatically through integrations with Jira, Trello, GitHub, and Gitlab).
- Intelligent RACI — offers a full accountability framework in the software, ensuring the right people are engaged with goals, strategies, and KPIs. The product also sends notifications keeping people informed of changes to the strategy and ensuring they are regularly sharing updates.
- Alignment annotations — provides a simple way for contributors and managers to connect the dots between execution and strategy. Users can add full explanations, tags, and percentages to their annotations, allowing them to provide additional information on how individual items are related.
- Slack app — users can interact with Minsilo through a Slack bot and app. This bot also can be used to send notifications to users, reminding them to keep their KPIs and goals up-to-date.
- Sign in via Google or Slack is supported
Minsilo supports both OKRs and the Alignment Management Methodology. The product is versatile and has also been used by teams that utilize OGSM.
Pricing & Availability
Minsilo offers two pricing tiers designed for small to medium-sized companies. Startup is free forever for up to 5 users. Small teams and companies just starting with Minsilo can use this tier for free.
Standard comes with a 7-day free trial and includes features relevant to teams larger than 5 users (it also does not come with a limit on the number of users). After the trial, Standard is $7 per user per month when billed annually ($10 monthly).
Minsilo also makes it simple to sign up. Simply create an account and upgrade when needed. There’s no need to talk to a salesperson, request a demo, or commit to a contract to get started.
Asana is a work management platform for managing team projects and tasks. The primary focus of Asana is project management, but the company has recently added features for aligning goals with projects.
- Asana incorporates several excellent project management features for non-engineering teams.
- Excellent library of templates for projects, but it does not include any templates for goals.
- Provides visibility into goals and tasks across an organization by “defaulting to open.”
- Goals are shown to all regular users in a company.
- Administrators can restrict this further, but Asana supports greater transparency.
- The future of Asana looks promising and will eventually incorporate many features to free up teams from administrative and managerial tasks.
- Goals in Asana can only be set at the team or organization levels. There are no individual goals.
- Not best-in-class in any category.
- Although Asana bills itself as an OKR tool, it does not follow some of the practices of OKRs. For example, goals can be endlessly nested, instead of a strict “Objective / Key Result” hierarchy.
- Our testing has shown the app to be buggy at times, requiring us to refresh the page for content to load. Perhaps this issue will go away as we use the product more.
- Cannot align tasks to specific goals. You can only align projects and goals.
- There is little granularity about the ownership and accountability around goals.
- Goals have owners and collaborators.
- Limited customization around what goals are measuring.
- You can set the “Format” to one of percent, number, US dollars, Euros, Japanese Yen, British Pounds, Canadian dollars, Australian dollars
- The lack of a unit makes it difficult to understand what the “progress metric” is measuring at a glance.
- While Asana is compatible with Agile project management, it does not enforce any specific rituals around Agile.
- Expensive when used at scale.
- Seat licensing is not actually on a per-user basis. It is on a per-user / per-team basis, which means that if a user is part of two different teams (e.g., Product & Sales), the user needs to subscribe multiple times.
- The lack of per-user pricing means that a company may opt to silo individuals into a single team to reduce costs. This has the negative side effect of creating organizational silos.
- Pricing causes siloing.
Who it’s for
- Teams without existing project management or task tracking tool.
- Teams that already use Asana exclusively for project management. There’s currently no way to align goals to projects in other applications, like Jira, Clubhouse, or CA Rally.
- Companies of all sizes (product is most popular with medium-to-large organizations).
- Traditional organizations that are hierarchical. Eventually, Asana plans to expand to decentralize and ad-hoc organizations loosely held together by goals and priorities (like companies that follow the Alignment Management Methodology).
- Tasks are the “bread and butter” of Asana.
- Tasks can be broken into subtasks.
- Tasks can be assigned to one or more individuals.
- Gantt chart
- Shows project dependencies.
- Useful for visualizing when things are going to be completed by (useful for project managers).
- Uses a modified version of the OKRs framework for setting goals. Does not actually follow several of the practices of OKRs (including weights).
- Goals can be “closed” for several reasons:
- Key Results can consist of several subgoals.
- Every goal has an owner.
- Goals can be aligned to specific projects.
- Program managers and project portfolio managers can use Asana to keep tabs on a “portfolio” of projects.
- Provides a single dashboard for seeing all of the projects a company has related to a theme or topic.
- A company can have several portfolios in place (such as a portfolio of marketing campaigns and a portfolio of R&D projects).
- Can update the status of goals.
- Status updates are great.
- Status updates notify any user who is part of a project or portfolio.
- Blog post style: includes a title of an update, status (on track, at risk, off-track). You can create several sections, with the defaults being:
- What we’ve accomplished
- What’s blocked
- Next steps
- Can drag over “highlights,” which include lists, graphs, and charts describing the specifics of a project or a portfolio.
- Blog post style: includes a title of an update, status (on track, at risk, off-track). You can create several sections, with the defaults being:
Asana does not enforce a specific methodology, but many teams use it for Agile and Scrum project management. The product also supports OKRs.
Pricing / Availability
- 30-day trial period for the Business tier. The Business tier is required for the goals feature.
- $24.99 per month/user when billed annually
- Pricing is tied to the team, meaning a user on multiple teams on a paid tier will cost more money.
- For example, a Business tier user on three teams will cost $74.97 / month.
- Available to anybody via a self-signup. A trial is accessible after entering a credit card (or by contacting sales).
Workboard is a work management system that helps companies set and manage goals using the OKRs framework. The product was designed to help leaders align strategic priorities through an organization.
The OKR heat map is an excellent way to visualize the status of goals in every team in the organization.
- The product supports Microsoft Teams and Slack, which allows interacting with goals without needing to sign into Workboard.
- Robust integrations with third-party tools, allowing managers to align work done elsewhere with goals in Workboard.
- There’s a built-in system for recording meeting minutes for OKR meetings. Users can create an objective, key result or task in this tool, as well.
- The built-in reports are excellent and well-suited for board presentations. This makes preparing a presentation for leadership meetings easy.
- Supports both hierarchical and flat organizational structures, since the tool does not rely heavily on cascading of goals.
- They offer a coaching service for helping companies with their OKRs.
- Excellent customer service. Reviewers on G2 say that their customer service makes up for the shortcomings of the product.
- The process of buying Workboard is difficult and convoluted. New customers must talk to sales and negotiate a contract to get up and running. There’s no way to try the product without first committing to a sales demo.
- Joining an existing workspace on Workboard is difficult, as well. New users looking to join an existing company on Workboard need to fill out a form to get access. They then have to wait for an email to get access.
- Requires multiple training sessions to get up and running with the software.
- New and infrequent users may find the interface to be difficult to navigate. Several reviews on G2 commented that the interface has a lot of options that make it difficult to use.
- Software is mainly focused on OKRs. It does not appear that the software provides visibility into other types of context.
- Does not include a read-only license option, so the service can get expensive when trying to get an entire company on board.
- Unclear value to individual contributors, which may make adoption difficult. Workboard is mainly oriented toward managers and executives.
- Some users complain the tool is slow at times.
Who it’s for
Workboard boasts an impressive list of large enterprises as their customers. Their product is designed mainly for:
- Senior leaders
- Top-down management
- Teams that are heavily bought into Office 365
- Objectives & Key Results (OKRs)
- Set and track OKRs.
- Supports the OKRs framework.
- Kanban style boards that track the work being done.
- Cards can be pulled in from Jira or created manually.
- Cards represent specific tasks that the team is working on.
- OKR Alignment
- Done through cascaded goals, which allow the goals to be tied to a specific organization.
- Roughly models the reporting lines on an organization chart.
- “Lateral alignment”
- OKR Heatmap
- Can see all of the teams in the organization.
- Shows whether a team is at-risk or not, visually.
- Microsoft Teams / Slack bots
- Allow users to view progress and update their OKRs without leaving Teams or Slack.
- Jira Software integration
- Allows user to update their Key Results within Jira.
Workboard supports OKRs and KPIs.
Pricing / Availability
Workboard does not officially publish pricing on their website. Betterbuys.com provides the following price breakdown for Workboard:
- Teams edition (for small teams) is $20 / user / month. Trial period unknown.
- Enterprise edition (for companies with 150+ users) is $50 / user / month. Trial period unknown. Users looking to sign up for Workboard need to contact sales first. There is no self-service signup option.
Note: We’re unable to provide a listing of pros and cons of the product at this time. Founded in 2015, Lattice is a continuous performance management and employee engagement tool designed for HR managers. The product offers several features related to people management, including performance reviews, 1:1s, and pulse surveys. Our analysis only focuses on Goals, the main feature related to alignment.
Who it’s for
Lattice is a modern HRIS system that is designed for HR teams in hierarchical, top-down businesses.
- Goals can be broken down further than Objectives and Key Results.
- Supports cascading of goals.
- Appears to support hierarchical cascading of goals.
- Goals can be tied to conversations in 1:1s, allowing managers to review goals with their reports.
- Simple reporting and analytics tools.
Lattice supports OKRs and SMART goals.
Pricing / Availability
- $9 / user / month for the Performance tier
- Minimum annual contract size is $3,000
- No free trial.
- Must contact sales to get started. There is no self service onboarding
Gtmhub is a pure play Objective & Key Results tool that focuses on usability and simplicity. They were founded in 2015 in Sofia, Bulgaria, but are now headquartered in San Francisco.
- Well designed product.
- Huge assortment of data sources and automations for pulling in data.
- OKR Marketplace provides an ample set of examples for OKRs.
- Awesome OKRs reports.
- Flexibility on implementing OKRs. Plenty of customization around the way that you measure success on specific OKRs.
- Gtmhub appears to be heavily investing in new features in their product. Expect it to get better over time.
- Slack integration
- Although the company markets Gtmhub as a tool that helps boost alignment, it does not provide many tools for managing alignment (beyond goals and KPIs).
- Allows users to create individual OKRs, which can be dangerous to alignment. There are numerous issues with holding OKRs at the individual level, including the lack of alignment to the big picture.
- OKRs are cascaded down the organization. Relying on cascading goals, rather than dynamically linking them, can create silos in an organization.
- Does not include other context needed for successful implementation of OKRs.
- Lacks any way to align to relevant contextual information, like an underlying strategy or purpose.
- Some customers complain that the tool lacks functionality needed for successful adoption in the enterprise.
Who it’s for
Gtmhub is designed for companies that are already committed to OKRs. They sell primarily to the enterprise market and to executives and managers.
- Lists — filters of searches on OKRs.
- KPIs — tracks values from third party data
- Announcements — post messages to the entire company or just selected people.
Gtmhub supports OKRs and KPIs.
Pricing / Availability
Gtmhub pricing ranges greatly with prices from $1 - $10 per month per user. A 50% discount is applied to annual contracts. Users can sign up for a free trial for 7 days, without entering a credit card or talking to sales.