How to write effective Objectives and Key Results

When implementing OKRs, one of the hardest tasks is to write meaningful and useful Objectives and Key Results. Most of the teams get it wrong the first time, and it's ok. The most important is to keep moving forward and improve iteratively. In this article, we share how to write effective Objectives and Key Results and how to test whether your OKRs are right or not.

How does an effective Objective look like

There are different views on how to write effective Objectives. Here's a checklist we believe is the most important and most common.

  1. Inspirational. Objectives should inspire the team, should motivate them to contribute and create an understanding that it indeed matters. Powerful Objectives are like small mission statements.
  2. Attainable. Even though Objectives should be bold, they should also be realistic and possible to achieve within the timeframe.
  3. Significant & Meaningful. Objectives should not be small operational tasks or to-do items. They should matter.
  4. Controllable. The team or organization should be able to influence everything that's needed to achieve the Objective directly.
  5. Short. Not more than 7-10 words. The fewer — the better. Short Objectives make them easy to remember.
  6. No buzzwords or jargon. Objectives should be easy to read and understand by anyone, including the newcomers. Avoid any abbreviations and buzzwords.
  7. Without numbers. Numbers, percentages, KPIs are for the Key Results. Let Objectives set the direction first before specifying the metric.

Questions you can use to guide the team towards writing the right Objectives:

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • How can you help the company implement the strategic goal/the vision/the mission?
  • What are the most critical challenges/blockers you need to solve right now?
  • How would the organization look/What would be different when we achieve the Objective?
  • If you were the client, what would you wish our organization have done?
  • What does our organization need to do so that you'd be proud of it?

How do effective Key Results look like

Objectives are about what you want to achieve. The Key Results measure how far you're from achieving the Objective. It's a metric that shows the progress towards your goal.

The best formula for the Key Result is: Increase [Decrease] metric A from X to Y.

Here how the effective Key Results should look like:

  1. Qualitative. Key Results should contain a number. If there's no number, most likely it's a bad Key Result.
  2. Outcome-focused. Key Result should not measure the output (number of emails, number of articles, etc.), but the outcome (revenue, increased referrals, client/team satisfaction, etc.).
  3. Controllable. As with Objectives, you need to have to be able to make an impact on the Key Results you set.
  4. Aligned. Make sure your Key Results align with each other. For example, growing the client base 2x and profit 2x in the same period is probably unrealistic.
  5. Holistic. Together, Key Results should describe the progress towards your Objective. View your Key Results from different standpoints. When you achieved all your Key Results - you've completed your Objective. There should be no other interpretation.
  6. Moonshot. Key Results should motivate the team to achieve more they previously have done. It's ok to miss them for a bit.
  7. Assigned to the owner. Someone should own each Key Result. When everyone is responsible, then no-one is. Make sure the person understands and accepts the ownership of the Key Result.
  8. Updated regularly. It's essential to update the Key Results along the way, not only at the end of the period — the best way to do it - during the weekly/bi-weekly OKR check-ins.
  9. SMART. Overall, Key Results should target to be SMART goals.

Questions you can use to guide the team towards writing the right Key Results:

  • What metric will signify that we've achieved our goal?
  • What other metrics should we make sure to track when achieving this goal? Which do we need to make sure not to worsen? (for example, when increasing the number of leads, make sure that the cost per lead does not skyrocket).
  • What change in our/customer behavior will bring us to achieving the Objective? Do we have the data to measure it? If not - what do we need to measure from now one?

The "So What?" test

Good OKRs should be able to stand the test of the "So What?" test. They need to deliver the output, the value to your organization, or your customers. They should make a positive change in the world.

Ask "So What?" as many times as needed before you define the real value you're trying to achieve.

For example:

  • Let's put the Key Result: Release the feature X.
  • So what?
  • Our customers should like it.
  • So what? Why should it matter? How do you know?
  • Well, 20% of them churn every month because they say our product misses this feature.
  • Ok, how about the Key Result: Reduce the churn rate from 20% to 2%?

Reframing the OKRs after the "So What?" test helps focus on the right behavior in the team. It also helps prioritize the activities that indeed matter. It shifts the focus from delivering output/features to delivering values and solving customer problems.

Summary

Writing good OKRs is not easy. Using the checklist above, the guiding questions and the "So What?" test would drastically improve your Objectives and Key Results and increase the chances of succeeding.

Check out a free OKR tool Plai that helps you set the effective OKRs and align your teams around what matters.

Check out a free OKR tool Plai that helps you set the effective OKRs and align your teams around what matters.