Writing Useful OKRs

Writing goals can seem difficult because it's two exercises in one: not only do you decide what you're going to focus on but you also write how you're going to do it. It's not something you do unprepared. Fortunately, you don't have to do it all at once.

Objectives

Write down your desired outcome at the end of the goal. Try to be ambitious but realistic and make sure others can understand what you're trying to achieve too.

Consider the business needs of your team or organization. How does this goal contribute to the business? What can you do that would benefit the team? Talk to your manager and colleagues.

We see many companies try to absolutely put a number on objectives. It's not hard to see why: many examples available on the Internet do just that. If you can find a meaningful and direct number, great!

But don't bend backwards to come up with a number or you may set yourself on the wrong path by focusing on changing that number instead of achieving the goal.

Key Results

After stating your goal, you'll break it down into results. Results help quantify the success of the goal but also formulate how you choose to address the goal.

So what makes a good key result? Here are our favorite key results in decreasing order of preference:

  1. A metric directly related to the success of the objective

    For an objective of book $5M in sales, the sales number is an obvious good measure.

  2. A metric you think is directly related to the success of the objective.

    For an objective of lower customer churn, a net promoter score is a logical choice. It may also be wrong.

  3. A milestone clearly related to the objective

    For an objective of deliver new product in Q1, completing the first phase of that product is likely a required step.

  4. An action item the goal owner thinks may contribute to the success of the goal

    Tweeting a lot may be a good way to reach an objective of build social media following. Or it may fail.

  5. No key result.

For good measure, here are key results to avoid. These are tempting to use because you'll probably get to them anyway. Avoid putting tasks as key results, OKRs isn't a good format for a todo list.

  • A task to complete as part of the regular job duties

    Just because you completed show up at work, the objective isn't any closer to completion.

  • A metric unrelated to the success of the objective but that we know will likely go up

    Any project or team have their numbers that always go up. Cumulative usage, number of tasks completed, number of calls made, or other vanity metrics. These are useless and devalue the meaning of goal progress.

Which approach?

Use a mix of metrics and tactical results! We advise - when possible - to find a number that captures the success of the goal and lay out what you'll do to reach it.