Guide: Set goals with OKRs

Avoid OKR-writing mistakes

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. When developing OKRs, try to avoid these traps:

  1. Miscommunicating stretch goal OKRs - Setting stretch goals requires careful communication within the teams delivering the objectives as well as other teams that depend on the work being delivered as part of the stretch goal OKR. If your project depends on another team’s objectives make sure you understand their goal-setting philosophy. If they are using stretch goals you should expect them to deliver on about 70% of their stated OKRs.
  2. Business-as-usual OKRs - OKRs are often written based on what the team believes it can achieve without changing anything they’re currently doing, as opposed to what the team or its customers really want. To test this, stack rank the team’s current work as well as newly requested projects in terms of value versus effort required. If the OKRs contain anything other than top efforts, then they are just business-as-usual OKRs. Drop low-priority efforts and reassign resources to the top OKRs. There are some objectives that will stay the same quarter after quarter, like “Ensure customer satisfaction is over XX%,” and this is ok if that objective is always a high priority. But the key results should evolve to push the team to continue to innovate and become more efficient.
  3. Sandbagging - Teams who can meet all of their OKRs without needing all of their team’s bandwidth may either be hoarding resources, not pushing their teams, or both.
  4. Low-value objectives - OKRs should promise clear business value - otherwise, there’s no reason to expend resources doing them. “Low-value objectives,” even if fully achieved, won’t make much of a difference to the organization. Ask, could the OKR get a 1.0 under reasonable circumstances without providing direct organizational benefit? If so, reword the OKR to focus on the tangible benefit.
  5. Insufficient key results for objectives - If the key results for a given objective don’t represent all that is needed to fully achieve that objective, an unexpected miss on that OKR can happen. That can cause delays of both the discovery of the resource requirements as well as the discovery that the objective will not be completed on schedule.

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