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How We Manage Our Company Goals Using OKRs

Stephanie Gonzaga
December 26, 2016
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At the beginning of a new quarter, the team behind TeamGantt contribute their individual Objectives and Key Results for the next three months.

If this is the first time you've heard of OKRs, Rick Klau's video explains how OKRs are created and implemented within a large and successful company like Google. For those who don't have time to watch the entire video, this introduction to OKRs by Google's reWork should suffice.

Objectives and Key Results basically equip you with tools that enable you and your team to envision, implement, and accomplish your company goals. The key is to back up your company goals—often characterized as ambitious, uncomfortable, risky—with measurable action steps that tracks progress.

You need to be able to plot out the points that will lead you to your goals, rather than simply listing down abstracts of what you would like to achieve in the next couple of months.

OKRs are a perfect fit for a product like TeamGantt where every single project detail is measurable. With our own OKRs, individual goals or objectives are listed as task groups and each key result is listed as tasks. We then use our Percent complete feature to measure progress.

At the end of the quarter, we can update our OKRs and leave comments about what we've achieved and what we've missed.

How do I introduce OKRs to the team?

OKRs have given the team concrete direction in making significant progress with our company goals. You can do the same for your own company, regardless of its size or age.

Google's guide to OKRs is a good resource to learn all that you can about OKRs and how they are created and implemented, but here's a summary of steps that you can take to introduce and get your organization ready for it:

  1. Discuss OKRs 101. Set up a session where you'd discuss what the history of OKRs, their definition and nature with regards to goal-setting, and how they can help the team accomplish new or backlogged goals.
  2. Give each of your team members a chance to ask questions about OKRs. This is an opportunity to clear the air and address skepticism regarding the method.
  3. Draft a list of key company objectives. Brainstorm with your team for at least three objectives that are ambitious and of greatest importance. These are the goals that all of your company's projects and resources will align with.
  4. Prioritize key results. Narrow down ideas and/or scrap out tasks or projects that will not lead you to your agreed objectives. Be as disciplined and rigid because this will determine the focus and amount of resources needed to accomplish your goals.
  5. Make your OKRs public. Every member of your organization should know what your company goals are, steps to be taken to meet these goals, and the metrics for success.
  6. Update the OKRs regularly. This is extremely important as this keeps everyone accountable and in charge of reporting progress and addressing concerns.

How do I write good OKRs?

Developing OKRs that set clear goals, measured by agreed upon results, can push teams to achieve great things and keep an organization focused on the most important priorities. Poorly written OKRs can create confusing strategy, undermine internal metrics, and cause teams to focus on maintaining the status quo. (source)

You and your team understand the value OKRs can bring to the table. How do you ensure that everyone's OKRs are clear, effective, and measurable? Here are tips to consider and to share with your teammates:

Tip #1: Keep your key results measurable. 

When writing OKRs, ask yourself the question: "How would I know how well I've met my objective?"

According to editor Niket Disai, key results are "numerically-based expressions of success or progress towards an objective." If you can't put a number on your key result, you lose clarity and direction towards your objectives.

For the marketing team, one of our objectives is to build a steady and consistent publishing schedule. To do this, one key result is to "Publish 12 blog posts at the end of Q4." Another key result for this type of objective is to "Capture 30,000 blog subscribers."

Tip #2: Don't settle with comfortable.

The nature of OKRs is that they're based on objectives that push the limits to accomplish great things. If the OKRs make you feel safe or comfortable, do not require extensive effort and top use of resources, then they need to be reworked.

To quote from Google, "The 'sweet spot' for an OKR grade is 60% – 70%; if someone consistently fully attains their objectives, their OKRs aren’t ambitious enough and they need to think bigger."

Tip #3: Grade your key results.

Key results are plot points that will tell you if you've made progress in accomplishing your objectives. Google uses number grades to measure difficulty (o-1.o), but you can use different metrics to determine this.

For instance, Christina Wodtke of Eleganthack suggests rating each key result with a confidence level to see if you and your team are pushing the limits to achieve your objectives. A confidence level of 1, for example, would mean the key results are too difficult or impossible to achieve. A confidence level of 10 equates to "sandbagging" where teams are working without utilizing their resources.

Tip #4: Don't create too many. 

Limit your key results to a number that is manageable and that makes sense in relation to the objective being targeted. Start with 3-4 key results that clearly illustrates progress that will lead to accomplishing your objectives.

Tip #5: Gather feedback.

Whether you are new to OKRs or you've been using the philosophy regularly, it always helps to gather feedback from others working towards the same objectives.

Since OKRs are meant to be public, you're free to ask feedback that will help you fine tune your key results. At the end of the session, you may gain insight from other people's perspectives, and come up with even more effective OKRs to aim for.

Use OKRs to shorten the distance success.

After setting OKRs for the past two quarters, we've made progress on several of our objectives. Our official YouTube channel and blog have gone up in subscriber numbers, our editorial queue has been consistent, and we've recently rolled out our new pricing for new customers.

None of these things would have been possible or doable if the objectives and key results weren't concrete, sensible, and measurable. There is still much to be done, but it's a huge win to know that we've made serious progress this year.

Take this opportunity to create a couple of OKRs in preparation for 2017. With the resources provided in this blog post, you can see how these can make a difference to your goal-setting techniques.

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