The world’s most successful tech companies use objectives and key results to plan their priorities. Using the experiences we’ve had with the so-called OKRs, we have put together a
What are objectives and key results?
Objectives and key results (OKR for short) is one of the most successful management methods from the Silicon Valley. Developed at Intel and used by Google, Uber, Trello and many more, OKR is a tool used to ensure a common focus on the really important issues.
In his bestseller Measure What Matters, Silicon Valley investor John Doerr describes the details of the method and the principles behind its success since its introduction at Google in the 1990s, its so-called superpowers:
- Focusing and determining priorities
- Organising and connecting for better teamwork
- Better measurability
- Ensuring phenomenal results
The OKR method is especially well-suited to teams, whose markets and environments change rapidly. Classical strategy models, which set goals over very long periods of time and require complex (= time-consuming) processes to measure progress, fail in such environments due to the maintenance effort alone.
With the help of OKRs, company-wide goals can be linked to individual employee goals in an uncomplicated and flexible fashion. Through periods of time, in the range of months rather than years, the team remains agile and focused on current priorities.
The goals set according to the OKR concept and their current degree of achievement are usually made available transparently throughout the company. This creates additional understanding for the contribution of the rest of the team.
OKRs with awork
awork is a fast-growing product and new awork features appear every few weeks. Furthermore, the likewise rapidly growing circle of awork users is very diverse. From government offices to advertising agencies, all kinds of teams use awork in order to work more productively.
Adding to this, is the rapidly developing market for business and productivity software. New technological possibilities, as well as underlying productivity and organisational methods, are emerging almost weekly.
Keeping the right focus and reacting to these diverse changes is a constant challenge for our team of about 30 people.
After finding some experiments with modified versions of the Balanced Scorecard as a strategy tool too rigid and costly, we tried short-term micro-goals to give us a better common understanding of current priorities.
However, since our teams work very differently, with various methods and different subject focuses, these cross-team milestones also “missed the mark.” 😉
Objectives & key results offer a good combination of overall company goals, individual goals of all employees, manageable maintenance of the method and realistic time frames.
Even the creation process of the OKR, in which our entire team is actively involved for a day, contributes to the transparency and common understanding of our business model.
The task bundle
We constructed this task bundle based on our own experience with implementing the OKR method. It is divided into three lists for the three main phases of implementation:
- The first list deals with preparing for implementation. The tasks contain links to helpful reads and help you to make the right initial decisions.
- The second list revolves around the OKR kick-off day. On this faithful day, the OKRs shall be defined in the whole team. In order to make this day a success with many participants, the tasks contain all the important steps for creating briefings and an agenda.
- Last but not least, the third list is there to help you set up continuous maintenance, organise review appointments and keep track of the progress of your OKRs.
Maintain your OKRs in awork
In addition to the introduction of the OKR method and the organisation of the first kick-off day, aworkis well-suited for the maintenance and follow-up of the defined OKRs.
With us, it works as follows: we set up an OKR project for each new OKR period, each of which lasts three months (e.g., OKR Q1 2020). To make maintenance even easier, we have created a separate, additional task bundle that automatically creates a list for each of our teams (e.g., marketing, product, development, etc.).
For each objective, a task in the appropriate list is now created, given a three-month deadline, and assigned to the responsible team member. In addition to the simple description of the objective, we also fill in a few sentences to link it to the company-wide objectives. Finally, a subtask is created for each key result.
This is how you formulate good OKRs
Question: what are the most important things that need to be achieved during the coming quarter?
- Be ambitious!
- 3-5 objectives per person are definitely more than enough (stick closer to 3)
Objectives do not have to work on their own
Objectives are not necessarily stand-alone objectives and therefore do not necessarily have to be SMART (although they can be, of course). They only have to be really helpful in combination with their key results.
Objectives do not need to change for each period
If objectives are achieved or are no longer important, they are exchanged in the next period. However, some objectives remain in place for more than one period if there is still a need for action (e.g., “improve product quality”). In these cases, only new key results are defined.
Not everything you do is an OKR and OKRs are not everything you do.
Of course, daily business remains the same. The lights must stay on and we don’t need an OKR for that. But if there is a need for action in these areas, it is perfectly legitimate to define an objective here too.
The key results:
Quantifiable, measurable results that have a direct impact on reaching the objectives.
- If you cannot measure it, it is not a good key result
- Key results are results, not tasks
- Two to five key results per objective should be doable
Key results explain and quantify your objectives
“…measured by…” is the appropriate sentence here. Key results detail what we actually mean by our objectives.
Key-Results ≠ KPI
A key result does not always have to be a KPI (Key Performance Indicator, i.e. a number). Instead, activity-based key results are quite acceptable if they fit the objective.
At the latest every 14 days (ideally, of course, more often) the team updates its own progress in awork: tasks are set to the correct status, subtasks are checked off when they are completed and comments are made in the activities in case of important changes.
At the key result level, we write the progress in the name of the subtask (e.g., write three customer cases [0 .3]). 0.3 means in this case that about 30 percent of the key result is fulfilled, i.e. a customer case has already been written. All OKRs and their status can be viewed and everyone in the team can ask questions and start discussions.
Last but not least, we used the public awork API to display our OKRs live on a large TV in our Hamburg office. This gives you a daily insight into our priorities and the progress across the team.