Learn more about Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

What are OKRs?

A summary of Resource 1: Google’s OKRs Playbook, from Measure What Matters.

Google has the most experience implementing “objectives and key results” (OKRs). They use OKRs to “think big”. Different work can be vastly different in impact: big products like Chrome and Android started as small teams. OKRs help us choose what we’ll work on, and help us track that work. OKRs combat our natural bias towards urgent tasks, in favour of working on non-urgent but important tasks. OKRs combat our natural conservative bias, in favour of aggressive goals.

After some time, we grade OKRs between 0 and 1, expressing “how well we did”.

Writing Effective OKRs

Objectives say what we’re going to do, and the Key Results say how we’re going to do it.

Key Results must be measurable, so we know whether we have achieved the result. For example, “publish average and tail latency measurements from six Colossus cells by March 7”. This is better than “assess Colossus latency”.

Key Results must include evidence of completion, like change lists or published metrics.

Cross-team OKRs

Achieving OKRs requires contribution from many groups. Every group’s OKRs should express their shared OKR.

Committed vs. Aspirational OKRs

Each objective is either committed or aspirational. This says whether we have a clear idea of how to achieve the objective. Expected score for a committed OKR is 1. Expected score for an aspirational OKR is 0.7.

OKR traps

Trap: not distinguishing committed and aspirational. This distinction is essential for being aggressive yet realistic.

Trap: “business-as-usual”. A description of what we’re doing.

Trap: Timid aspirations. Set aspirations which you or customers want, but don’t know how to achieve.

Trap: “Sandbagging”. Committed objectives should consume most team resource. Committed+aspirational should consume more than current resource. If teams meet all their OKRs, management should reassign their resource to other teams!

Trap: low-value objectives. Objective should provide business value.

Trap: insufficient KRs for committed Os. If all KRs are achieved, the O must be achieved.

Reading, intepreting, and acting on OKRs

Teams who cannot deliver the expected score must ESCALATE. This helps management develop alternatives and reassign resource.

New OKRs SHOULD require more resource to achieve!

Committed OKR which does not achieve 1.0 requires postmortem.

Committed OKR example: meet all SLAs.

Aspirational OKRs should remain until completed. Dropping them disguises problems.

Managers need to use their team’s OKRs to ask for resource.

Express KRs in external terms, not using internal terminology. Use real dates. Ensure measurable results. Ensure unambiguous. “If there are important activities on your team that aren’t covered by OKRs, add more [OKRs]”. Make OKRs hierarchical: more detailed ones for sub-teams.

Resource 4: In Sum

Four superpowers of OKRs:

  1. Focus and Commit to Priorities
  2. Align and Connect for Teamwork
  3. Track for Accountability
  4. Stretch for Amazing

Focus and Commit to Priorities

Recomment annual+quarterly OKRs. Phase in with upper management. Designate an “OKR shepherd” to ensure people make time to choose what matters. Commit to 3-5 top objectives per cycle. Decide what not to do. For inspiration, look to mission statements, plans, and themes. Pair qualitative and quantitative results. Most important element for success is CONVICTION from leaders.

Align and Connect for Teamwork

Incentivize employees by showing how their objectives relate to company objectives. Use all-hands to show why an OKR is important. Repeat it. Don’t cascade without feedback from subteams. 50% bottom-up OKRs. (! what does this even mean) Connect teams with shared OKRs. Use cross-functional teams. Ensure everyone knows when OKRs are revised.

Track for Accountability

Grade honestly, especially at high levels of mgmt motivate people with measures of achievement check the OKRs regularly weekly OKR 1:1s between managers and team members you can change OKRs at any time AS CONDITIONS CHANGE (but note earlier advice to not remove OKRs you haven’t achieved) At the end of the cycle, grade the OKRs Use a collaborative, real-time goal-setting system (??)

Stretch for Amazing

Distinguish committed vs aspirational. Establish environment in which failure is ok Set goals which are possible but unlikely Use 10x OKRs for aspiration roll over the aspirational OKRs to the next cycle

Continuous Performance Management

Don’t assess performance annually - do it continually

Goal attainment shouldn’t be rewarded with bonuses (it could even be “punished” by reassigning resource elsewhere)


Product OKRs Channels product OKRs Channels engineering OKRs Channels marketing OKRs Channels sales OKRs

What is the difference between Objectives and Key Results, really? I don’t buy it It doesn’t explain the relationship between Os and KRs

This doc says “OKR” in many places where it should really say “Objective”. e.g. “Committed OKR” should really be “committed objective”.

This doc is low on examples. It’s very unclear to me what “OKRs done well” looks like.

What are the consequences of OKRs not met?

Doesn’t talk about annual/quarterly process. When do we appraise the O and score it?

When should we set individual OKRs?

What can computers do? What are the limits of mathematics? And just how busy can a busy beaver be? This year, I’m writing Busy Beavers, a unique interactive book on computability theory. You and I will take a practical and modern approach to answering these questions — or at least learning why some questions are unanswerable!

It’s only $19, and you can get 50% off if you find the discount code ... Not quite. Hackers use the console!

After months of secret toil, I and Andrew Carr released Everyday Data Science, a unique interactive online course! You’ll make the perfect glass of lemonade using Thompson sampling. You’ll lose weight with differential equations. And you might just qualify for the Olympics with a bit of statistics!

It’s $29, but you can get 50% off if you find the discount code ... Not quite. Hackers use the console!

More by Jim

Tagged . All content copyright James Fisher 2018. This post is not associated with my employer. Found an error? Edit this page.