Just because you are a startup doesn’t mean things need to be haphazard.
Approaching decision-making and tracking progress can help your team stay focused on the right tasks and your company on the right track toward positive growth, and there is a common way to do just that:
What is OKR?
OKRs – or Objective Key Results – is a popular framework for measuring objectives and tracking outcomes to keep everyone in your organization focused.
Founders and senior managers at startups know just how challenging it can be to keep things chugging along during the early stages of a company’s life. Between managing product decisions, prioritizing feature releases, and establishing feedback loops to iteratively improve your new offering, how can you possibly find time for other important operations such as closing new hires, getting some structure into place, refining your messaging, taking on the competition, and growing your marketplace footprint?
This is where OKRs can help.
Objective key results will help you come up with the prioritized goals that will have the biggest positive impact on your business and will allow everyone in the company to measure their performance in reaching those goals.
Using OKRs, you can establish a robust system in which everyone knows how to decide what needs to be done, how to get those tasks done, how to allocate resources, and how to move from one sprint to the next and continue to create real value for your company and your customers.
In this OKR guide, we will explain the basic steps of conducting an OKR, share a couple of OKR examples, and dos and dont’s of it.
OKRs for Business in 5 Steps
1: Introduce OKRs to Your Team.
Communication with your team is important before rolling out any kind of initiative.
Tell your teams what OKRs are, how they work, and what you hope to achieve by using them. Allow them to ask questions and clear up any issues or concerns they may have.
Outline the durations you plan to use (monthly, quarterly) and have managers talk with their teams about granular details regarding deliverables, progress checks, and what to do if faced with issues. If the team knows you are there to support them, they will be that much more receptive and likely to get on board with a new way of doing things.
2: Outline Specific Objectives and Results.
OKR aims to define specific objectives using concrete, measurable actions.
Everyone needs to ask themselves, where am I now, where do I want to go, and how do I get there? Answers to these questions will form the outline of what objectives, results, and actions will be expected of every team member within a given time frame.
For example, you can have an overarching objective of reaching out to 20 new clients within the next month, engaging with 10 of those within two months, and closing 5 of them by the end of the quarter. Other teams can break down objectives into bite-sized tasks or metrics as are relevant to them. Examples include features added, releases approved, customer issues resolved, etc.
3: Keep Your Eye On the Ball.
Don’t relegate OKR discussions to just the beginning and end of each cycle.
Check up on your team regularly to see how things are going and make sure everyone is on track – and on pace – to reach their goals by the end of the predetermined time period.
Use weekly or bi-weekly one-on-ones with team leads or engineers to see if you can help unblock them or provide guidance or assistance in any other way, otherwise, you risk having scramble with too much to do within too little time as the month or quarter winds down.
4: Scoring Your OKRs.
You can measure your OKRs in many ways.
You can score performance out of 10 and classify anything above, say, an 8 as a success. Alternatively, you can break things down in a binary fashion – either a goal is achieved, or it is not.
You can also grade performance on tasks or objectives using checklists or grades from a manager, or you can incorporate customer feedback into your decision and redefine success or failure over time based on how accurately your measures translate to gains or losses to your bottom line.
5: Establish Feedback Loops.
It takes time to get OKR right.
You may not have all the right metrics in place in the beginning, and your team will take some time to get used to the process. However, once you’ve been through a few cycles, you will get a better feel for things.
For example, it is common for people to underestimate the time it takes to perform tasks, and they can easily overestimate the public’s reaction to or approval of new features. Once you’ve seen how well a set of measures aligns with business goals such as profits, client signups, churn, or otherwise, you can hone in on those metrics, formalize them into your grading scheme, and discard the others.
Finally, a few points to keep in mind when designing or implementing your OKR strategy.
Do set limits – Having more than 2-4 objectives within a given sprint may be more than is practical.
Do stick with the process – It will take some time before you and your team have a good feeling about how to set goals and how to measure them. With time, you’ll get there.
Do link small sprints to the bigger picture – Break things down as much as possible, but be sure to link every task, goal, and sprint to your primary business goals.
Do quantify whatever you can – Instead of saying you will improve something (which is a subjective statement), be objective and say I will increase inbound sales emails by X% or I will reduce approval steps by two over the next sprint.
Do not take too long to decide your OKRs – You can improve your operational agility and efficiency over time, so don’t expect to get things perfectly right from Day 1. Think of OKRs as an experimentation process; your failures can provide you with just as much information as your successes.
Do not be too general or vague – OKRs need to be strategic, exhaustive and focused on breaking down your never-ending to-do list. If ever in doubt, be more precise and focused and scale things down until you have nothing but clear, actionable tasks on your plate. The same goes for every member of your team.
Do not conflate tasks and results – Tasks are straightforward in the sense that you can check them off a checklist. Results are harder to achieve and should only be checked off your list when you’ve hit a certain outcome milestone, not just reached a certain output milestone.
Do not become frustrated with failure – OKRs, by their nature, are meant to help you work toward stretch goals. You very likely won’t hit all of them every time. If you are, you’re probably setting the bar too low. Work on pushing your teams to deliver their very best within the guidelines of your OKR strategy, do more of what you do well, focus on improving what you don’t do so well, and make adjustments along the way to cover gaps and weaknesses wherever they arise.
Here are some examples of OKRs that could be used company-wide or team-specific:
Objective: Increase Recurring Revenue
Key Result: Increase Monthly Recurring Revenue
Key Results: Increase the Number of New Sales Each Week to x
Key Results: Increase Retention Rate to x%
Key Result: Reduce Churn to x%
Objective: Successfully Launch the New Product
Key Result: Get X Signups
Key Results: Increase Free-trial to Subscriber Conversion Rate to x%
Key Results: Get Mentioned in X Newsletters
Objective: Stabilize the Product
Key Result: Increase Unit Test Coverage by x%
Key Results: Reduce the Average Time for Fixing Bugs to X
Key Results: Increase Code Review Times by X
Objective: Effectively Distribute Our Content
Key Result: Publish X Guest Blog Post
Key Results: Acquire X% More Backlinks than the Previous Month
Key Results: Gather X% More Followers on Social Media
Key Results: Get Accepted into X Publications
OKRs are beneficial for everyone.
They can help build discipline, they provide a roadmap with which to reach your objectives, and they help you focus efforts on meaningful goals within specific time frames.
Using OKR as outlined above can put you on your path toward stringing together successful short-term sprints – and with enough successful short-term sprints, what you have is long-term success.
Frequently Asked Questions
🔠 What does OKR stand for?
OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results which is a popular framework for measuring objectives and tracking outcomes company-wide.
❓ Why is OKR important?
OKRs allow you to establish company-wide long and short-term goals and track progress efficiently.
🏢 Which companies use OKR?
OKRs are used by the majority of businesses, including the tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Spotify.