Where did OKRs come from?

Early Google investor, John Doerr, learned about OKRs from the Intel CEO Andy Grove in 1975.

“The key result has to be measurable,” Grove said. “But at the end you can look, and without any arguments: Did I do that or did I not do it? Yes? No? Simple. No judgments in it.”

What are OKRs?

OKRs are a lightweight strategy and alignment framework. OKRs allow everyone to see what others are working on and collaborate effectively. OKRs are used to achieve the desired outcomes through common goals, shared commitments, and clear accountability,

The OKR Framework OKRs enable an organization to:

  • Engage and clarify strategy

  • Align and measure business Outcomes instead of deliverables

  • Prioritize and focus on the work that will deliver the best outcome

  • Understand and Align Capacity and Demand

Objectives Objectives are qualitative descriptions of what you want to achieve. Objectives should be short, inspirational and engaging. An Objective should motivate and challenge the team or teams.

Objectives are about outcomes. An outcome is what we aim to accomplish. An output is what we create. Key Results

Key Results are a set of metrics that measure your progress towards the Objective. More than that and no one will remember them.

All Key Results have to be quantitative and measurable. “If it does not have a number, it is not a Key Result.”

What are the common OKR mistakes?

  • Setting too many OKRs. Rather than being a laundry list of every single thing you do, OKR lists your top priorities. OKR is your definition of what most important during that a period. Besides, I fyou have to go look up what the OKRs are, y ou already failed. If you can’t remember them, you already failed!

  • Using OKR as a task list. Use OKR to measure if you are adding value, not if you are delivering tasks.

  • Not aligning your OKRs. OKR is an alignment tool, so you should never set your OKRs in isolation. You have to talk to the other teams.

  • “Set it and Forget it.” OKRs are not New Year Resolutions. Without regular follow-through, you will never achieve them.

Can you give some tips for writing good OKRs?

Tip: Don’t turn your OKRs into a task list!

Imagine a hamster in its cage, running nonstop on its wheel but never actually moving. Is that how you feel about your company or your team? Lots of work, lots of effort, but never getting anywhere?

When setting your OKRs, try to evaluate whether you are measuring effort or results. Are your OKRs focused on your objective or on the means to get there?

  • Activity-based Key Results: Measure the completion of tasks and activities or project deliverables.

  • Value-based Key Results: Measure the delivery of value to the organization or its customers. Value-based Key Results measure the outcomes of successful outputs. If you ever attended one of my Product Ownership clkass you heard multiple time Output vs Outcome!

Tip: Setting Objectives

  • Avoid expressions that don’t push for new achievements, e.g. “maintain market position.”

  • Use expressions that convey endpoints and states, e.g., “ship feature Y.”

  • Use tangible, objective, and unambiguous terms. It should be obvious to an observer whether an objective has been achieved.

Tip: Setting Key Results

  • Determine around three key results per objective. Absolutely no more than 5! People won’t remember!

  • Key results should describe outcomes, not activities. Describe the impact of these activities, e.g., “publish customer service satisfaction levels by March 7th” rather than “assess customer service satisfaction.”

  • Should include evidence of completion and this evidence should be available, credible, and easily discoverable.

Tip: The most probably result is never the best possible result!

Instead of simply being another task on your list, an OKR is a goal that’s supported by concrete actions that you need to take. Key Results should be numerically based with the “Sweet spot” for OKR success being somewhere around 60—70%.

When used this way, OKRs enable teams to focus on the big ideas and accomplish more than they thought was possible. All without the usual fear of the repercussions of “missing” a goal.

It might seem strange to purposefully set goals you don’t think you’ll hit. But when aiming high, even failed goals result in substantial progress. This is where the nuances and skills behind writing a good OKR becomes apparent.

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