Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is a framework that allows teams and individuals to focus on achieving a goal (Objective) and measuring their progress toward that goal based on impact (Key Results).
OKRs were invented at Intel, and made popular by John Doerr, who began his career at Intel in the 1970s. In 1980 Doerr joined Silicon Valley Venture Capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, where he funded many of the world’s most successful tech companies including Compaq, Netscape, Symantec, Sun Microsystems, Amazon, Intuit, Macromedia, LinkedIn, and Google.
OKRs were embraced by Google and are core to the company’s evidence-based and merit-oriented culture, resulting in the widespread popularity of the discipline among tech companies of all sizes.
Implementation of OKRs tends to vary from company to company. Some organizations emphasize the importance of individual objective setting, while others use OKRs strictly as a company and team-level framework.
The use of OKRs by tech start-ups generally begins within the product and engineering teams. Once the value of OKRs is recognized by other functional groups they may be adopted throughout a company, used to set both company and functional level quarterly objectives and the metrics used to measure outcomes.
There is a myriad of books about OKRs and a quick Google search results in at least twenty software tools designed to aid with their implementation.
My first exposure to OKRs was at Google, however, the approach outlined here differs from Google’s. It’s worth noting that the use of OKRs is inconsistent even within Google itself. Like many things at the company, each product area has a slightly different way of doing things, and of course, each of these groups vehemently believes theirs is the correct approach.
The Glue that Binds
OKRs are more than just a means of defining goals and measuring results, they are a framework for critical thinking, and most importantly, fostering a culture of cross-functional collaboration that values measurable contributions, accountability, and clarity of purpose.
OKRs are the glue that binds otherwise disparate teams and are most impactful when adopted company-wide, helping to align and focus efforts across distinct groups. The cross-functional collaboration this creates is best exemplified by the notion of a “shared OKR,” which is a single OKR that can only be realized by coordinated efforts of more than one functional group. For instance, a Product team may have an OKR related to user retention that requires the work of Marketing to be successfully realized.
OKRs may also be “rolled up,” from small teams all the way up to the executive or company level. This may sound practical only for small companies, but the practice is used by some of the world’s largest tech companies, including Google, whose “company OKRs” are comprised of a handful of critical product area OKRs, that, in turn, have been adopted from small, sub-team OKRs.
The practice of rolling up OKRs creates a direct and meaningful connection between the work of an individual on a small team to the mission of the company. This tangible link provides teams and contributors with a sense of purpose in their day-to-day work.
Aligning user problems with team objectives
OKRs are perfectly suited for product teams, as they help to reinforce the practice of focusing on the problem at hand, rather than the potential solutions one might employ to address the problems.
One should endeavor to grow attached to problems, not solutions. Adopting this principle provides a myriad of benefits.
Thanks for reading. In Part 2 we’ll look at how to practice objectivity and non-attachment by adopting the classic “Scientific Method.”