OKR FAQ: Top 10 Questions about Objectives and Key Results

Posted on April 19, 2021.

I recently gave a masterclass on Objectives and Key Results. We ended up with close to 50 questions from the ~300 attendees and I only had time to answer about 3 questions during the session so I thought I’d take some time and answer some of the others here.

If you missed the OKR Masterclass, I created a self-paced, video course for you and your team here.

…and so on with the first 10 questions.


Question 1: How can we involve ux as a more strategic part of OKR implementation and strategy?

The most effective way for ux to be involved with setting OKRs is to bring a deep customer understanding to the KR conversation. What behaviors are users doing now?

What are they trying to achieve? What indicators tell us they’re about to do something that will make them successful? Less successful?

The other strong #ux tool that makes #okr successful is product discovery. Once the goals are set, it’s the #ux team that often helps drive the initial steps of research, experimentation and customer development.


Question 2: Can OKRs be used in public services/sectors?

Yes! In fact, this is one of those situations where they make so much sense it’s unfortunate they’re not used more often.

Consider this objective: Reduce air pollution and make [city] more livable by 2025

Key Result: 50% fewer cars driven through the downtown area

Key Result: 100% increase in ridership of public transportation

Key Result: 65% daily utilization of bike share bicycles

All of these indicate real citizen behavior change which is the ultimate goal. Sadly most cities start with solutions. Example: we’ll build pedestrian only blocks or we will fine you if you drive a type of vehicle in a specific place. While these are admirable efforts, they are expensive and time consuming and are often the starting points, not the experiments.


Question 3: When implementing OKRs, how to set the best cadence (for strategic, tactical and operational levels) if the organization still works with annual budgets?

I don’t think we’re getting rid of annual budgets anytime soon. Strategic OKRs work with annual timeframes. Your strategy should be stable for a “while.” If you have to set that at a year to match financial planning, ok, but at the very least build in bi-annual check-ins to ensure the strategy still makes sense.

As you work down the org structure, timeframes get shorter. Teams should be setting quarterly goals and checking in quarterly to assess progress and ensure their work is (a) having the impact they predicted and (b) still makes sense / supports the broader strategy.

In some cases you can have even shorter timeframes especially if the feedback cycle is fast due to the size of your target audience or usage patterns of your product.

In all cases, there should not be any surprises at these check-ins. If teams are practicing radical transparency, the theme for these check-ins should be ”what are we going to do about what we’ve learned?” Rather than “wait, what? We didn’t hit the goal?”


Question 4: Can the problem your OKRs are solving for be hypothesis-driven? In other words, you assume but have not validated that the problem exists.

Yes. The objective is worded in a standard way but the early key results you set are not so focused on achieving the objective but rather on validating it should even be the goal.

In this situation, experimentation, early, cheaply and consistently is critical to reducing waste solving problems that don’t exist. Christina Wodtke wrote more about this here.


Question 5: How can we use the word “best this/that” in our objectives if it’s not quantifiable or measurable?

Best (and similar words/phrases) is indeed a qualitative word. It belongs as part of your objective statement, which should be qualitative and aspirational.

It’s in the key results where we determine how we define “best” in a quantitative, measurable way. The values you use in the KR’s are contextual to your business, your industry and to your leadership team.

For some leadership teams “best” means “makes the most money.” For others it could mean, “have the greatest positive impact on our customers.” Etc…

This is why deciding what your KR’s measure is so closely tied to your brand values.


Question 6: How do you connect OKRs with individual performance evaluation?

In short, you don’t.

As soon as you connect these two things, your teams will set goals they are guaranteed to hit. That’s the moment they stop pushing themselves to be creative and innovative and your product stops moving forward.

Should your performance management criteria change? Absolutely. They must. Or the kind of empathy, learning and humility OKRs encourage won’t take place.

So what should you measure your staff on?

Consider evaluating teams and individuals on their closeness to the customer, how often they make evidence-based decisions, how frequently they change course based on learning et al.

These aren’t “normal” criteria but they are required if OKRs are to succeed.


Question 7: If you’re responsible for lower level, tactical OKRs how do you connect the bigger business problem (strategic objective) to avoid reverse-engineering your backlog into your goals?

I wrote about the second half of this question here.

The goal-setting process must be both a top-down and bottom-up effort. Leaders set strategic goals for the teams to solve with clear KPI-level KR’s as success metrics.

Teams come up with OKRs that they can influence at their tactical level and that *they believe are leading indicators of the strategic KR’s*. Leaders and teams meet in the middle to ensure they are aligned and that leadership agrees the tactical goals the team is considering fit into their overall plan.

Example: a strategic KR to reduce operational costs by 25%

A team who works only on the authentication portion of the product creates OKRs focused on increasing authentication success and reducing human-based support for failed auth efforts.

This is both within their control AND supports the cost reduction effort.


Question 8: What common cultural elements do you observe in organizations that have success with using OKRs?

Humble leadership.

A realisation that software/IT is not a cost centre but in fact is the business.

Recognition that customer/user needs evolve rapidly.

An explicit demand and support for deep customer empathy work.

An appreciation that learning can be quick, cheap and effective.

An empowered middle management layer that isn’t afraid to make decisions.

To name a few.


Question 9: If you have an objective: Create the most delightful experience, could one KR be, “Accelerate time to market to weekly releases?”

No. Accelerating release pace/frequency does not guarantee a delightful experience. It just guarantees you can code to prod faster.

Also it is not a behavior change of the people who would benefit from your objective — your customers. If you’ve built a delightful customer experience, what will they be doing differently from what they’re doing today?

The answers to that question are your KR’s.


Question 10: How does strategy work fit into OKR’s?

In short, your high-level strategy work is often the same or every similar to your strategic OKRs.

If you consider Roger Martin’s 2 questions about strategy:

  1. Where will you play?
  2. How will you win?

The answer to those questions become your objective.

Example: Expand into North America with an unparalleled online car rental experience.

This answers both of Dr. Martin’s questions. If you add in “how will you know you’ve won?” as a 3rd question, you get your KR’s.

25% revenue growth in North American market
1 in 10 new customers comes from North America

etc…

These are the KR’s for your strategic objective.


I’ll post the next 10 questions on the blog next week. In the meantime please add your questions in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “OKR FAQ: Top 10 Questions about Objectives and Key Results

  1. How do you contextualize regulatory commitments in healthcare / financial services where you have to be compliant by a given date and people see those as mandates rather than goals to aim for as they are quite often binary.

    1. Great question Chris. For regulatory compliance there is no gray area — you are either compliant or you’re not. However, there are multiple ways to achieve compliance. So for situations like this, I would add in key results like, “reduce out of compliance incidents by 99%” or something similar.

      what you’re doing there is leaving it up to the team to decide how to best achieve that with the compliance goal still remaining front and center.

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