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Be more effective with OKRs

Last Edit 10/11/2019

OKRs (objectives and key results) are a goal setting system created at Intel and popularized by Google.

When to read this:

Are OKRs right for you?

Goal setting makes sure the work you do aligns with the outcomes you want. Without knowing where you're going, you can't know if what you're doing is helping you get there.

If you don't have goals, or have goals that aren't working for you, OKRs are a great starting point. They're very flexible, super easy to set up, super easy to follow up on, and well tested.

Note: your focus should be on limiting the amount of meta-work that you do. Focus on your outcomes, and limit the amount of time you spend trying to improve your processes.

Pick a process, start, and iterate over time. Spend less time deciding on the right framework. Test out the framework and make it work for you, or move on to a different one with your added knowledge of what does and doesn’t work.

What are OKRs?

OKRs have two main components:

[1] Objectives

Let’s look at some bad vs good objectives:

Product Bad: Activate user-testing of our product Good: Make our user experience delightful

Marketing Bad: Simplify & clarify our product, messaging, presentation of things we do Good: Create a massive following

[1] Make sure it’s exciting. You want to look at your objective and to have it energize and excite you. This is the key. If you aren’t excited about your objective, it’s not the right objective.

[2] Objectives typically follow a timeline, but with startups and small teams, they don't need to. We'll cover timeline in our Key Results, instead.

[2] Key Results

Key results are qualitative, and something that you can measure at the end of your time period. They have a defined end point.

Key Results give you something to focus on, and a way to measure your progress. For each objective, we will chose usually 2-4 Key Results.

Examples of good Key Results: Improve Net Promoter Score from 65 to 90. Increase Repurchase Rate from 35% to 70% Reduce CAC from $7.00 to $4.75

There is a clear, easy to way see what progress we've made through using our key results. Key Results have a clear timeline, which we'll discuss next.

Make sure it stretches you, but not too far. Think about stretching as an analogy. If you stretch a little outside your comfort zone, you get a lot of value. If you stretch too far, you could hurt yourself and lose momentum.

Google says to aim for 70% on average for your OKRs. I think that's a little low, so I aim to do 80% and push for the extra 20.

What’s the right cadence?

Most OKRs are set as quarterly goals. This is too long of a time period for most small teams.

Objectives can stay the same while Key Results can be 4, 6, 8, 12 weeks -- whatever makes sense for you. We like to use 6 weeks for our Key Results, and usually re-use objectives as necessary.

Additional features

OKRs should be transparent throughout the organization. Everyone should know what the objectives of all other teams are, and also what the objectives of the organization are.

This is necessary for alignment and creates clarity.

OKRs are also never used for accountability. It's important for goals to be ambitious, and you don't want people gaming the system by aiming low. If you are going to use something as an OKR, it can not also be used as a metric to judge individuals.

How to use OKRs

OKRs are not “set and forget”. When you are doing your daily or weekly planning, use your OKRs to inform your decision making and to help you prioritize what to work on.

We like to brainstorm possible tasks that would help us reach our OKRs every week as a team, and then each person chooses what to work on.

How you do this depends on your current workflow. OKRs work best when you make sure that your outcomes are what is driving your day to day work.

OKRs should be top of mind. I like to put mine on sticky notes on the wall behind my desk, and also in my to-do app.

What if OKRs don’t work for me?

Good OKRs fall within a FAST goal-setting framework. So, if the OKR process doesn’t work for you, I would take a step back and just create FAST goals.

Frequently discussed Ambitious Specific Transparent

If you want help with setting up your OKRs, I would be happy to help you.

We’re working on software to productize OKRs and make teams way more productive — so it’s a win-win situation.