OKRs for Humans How to set clear, inspiring goals with your team

Great teams needs clear goals. “OKRs” or “Objectives and Key Results” are a simple and proven way to do it. That acronym may make your eyes glaze over, but don’t panic — OKRs are just a simple format to cut through vague planning language and get to brass tacks quickly.

OKR WTF?

  • What are OKRs?: a simple way to set clear, actionable objectives for your team.
  • Why: Communicates focus efficiently. Makes progress measurable. Establishes a shared language and format.
  • How: Use a simple two-column format like this:
Objective
(What we want to get done)
Key Results
(How we know we’re successful)
Get physically fit Lose 5 pounds
Run a marathon in under 10 hours
Reduce sugar intake 50%
  • When: Ideally, quarterly. Your OKRs should update every 3 months or so, or more frequently as needed. Or use them to define success for a specific project.
  • Who: Ideally, all teammates and stakeholders. The people doing the actual work need to feel like the OKRs are clear, meaningful, and realistic.

A good OKR marries the big-picture objective with a highly measurable key result.” –Eric Schmidt

“It’s easy to set some amorphous strategic goal (make usability better‚ improve team morale‚ get in better shape) as an objective and then, at quarter end, declare victory. But when the strategic goal is measured against a concrete goal (increase usage of features by X percent‚ raise employee satisfaction scores by Y percent‚ run a half marathon in under two hours), then things get interesting.”

–Eric Schmidt, How Google Works

Objectives =  “What we want to get done”

Key Results = “How we know we’re successful”

  • Not an action, but a result. Describe an outcome. Not: a laundry list of tasks. How is the universe different once you succeed? (e.g., “build web site” vs. “web site launched by Jan 1 w. 10,000+ visitors first week”)
  • Rule of thumb: aim for 70% success.  Try to hit about 70% of your key results. If you’re 100% successful, you’re probably setting the bar too low. Less than 70% successful, it’s probably too high.

Tips

  • Short and sweet. Try to keep your language super crisp. It clarifies thinking and makes it easier for busy colleagues to grok quickly.
  • Don’t over-sweat the semantics. The important thing is that the language is clear and inspiring for the people doing the work, not the Planning Police. Avoid Dilbert-ization.
  • Top-down vs bottom-up. It’s more motivating to achieve your own objectives than someone else’s. Leadership dictating OKRs for a team rarely produces great results. Build psychological ownership by having the whole team participate in the process.
  • Not all key results need to be quantitative. Not everything needs a number. Silicon Valley’s use of OKRs might differ, but not everything in the universe is “data” or bean-counting. Keep it human.
  • Use post-its. In a group setting, you can use big post-its for Objectives, then stick smaller post-its with Key Results next to them. It’s a nice way to pull OKRs out of a group discussion.

More reading

openmatt

One comment

  • This is great. As a technical person, it is so often too easy to get sucked into complex systems to set goals and measure results, looking to capture every nuance. Unfortunately the end result is usually either the forest getting lost for the trees, or the system being abandoned because it’s too much effort to maintain, or both. I love the simple directness of OKR’s. This comes at a great time too, as our company starts to grow and we are grappling with maintaining quality and customer satisfaction as we scale. We are definitely going to implement this. Thanks Matt!

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