How-to: At what level should I write my OKRs?

Posted on July 5, 2021.
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As teams get started with Objectives & Key Results one question that pops up regularly is, “At what level should we write our OKR statements?”

This is a clear indicator that the team is ready to get started but wants to set a goal that is both realistic and achievable for themselves. It also indicates that the team is worried that the goal they choose for themselves may not be “big enough” for their stakeholders.

The rule of thumb I coach teams to answer this question is: write OKR statements that are within your sphere of influence.

In other words, if you work at a leadership level and are in charge of a whole product, program, business unit or even the company, your team’s OKRs should reflect that entire entity. You and your team have control over the whole thing, the teams within it, dependencies, priorities and resources. A product-level goal is within your control. Often times these will be strategic-level OKRs with key results that are high-level measures of the health of the business (or what we often call impact metrics). Examples here are measures like revenue, sales, profit and customer satisfaction.

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If you work on only a slice of the customer journey, set your goal for that specific piece of the experience for which you and your team are responsible. For example, let’s say your team works on the authentication process for your product. Your OKRs should reflect the goals of the authentication process (e.g., Smoothest authentication process in the financial services industry) and the behavior changes you’d like to see in that process (e.g., 90% reduction in password reset requests). In doing so you set your team up for success and reduce their dependency on other teams to achieve their Objectives & Key Results.

One thing to remember is that the lower level OKRs should work as leading indicators to the top-down, strategic ones the leadership teams write. This way your team not only has clear sense of what it needs to achieve but also how that fits into the bigger strategic program the company has put in place.

As you consider whether your OKRs are properly leveled, ask yourself — is this something we could achieve largely on our own? If the answer is yes, you’ve leveled well. If the answer involves multiple stakeholders and portions of the customer journey outside of your control consider scaling your OKRs down.