Be Your Own Boss With OKRs

How to use OKRs even when your boss doesn't.

business people talking over a laptop, okr conversation

Even if the entire company is not on board, OKRs can be used successfully by teams and individuals to achieve ambitious goals. Learn how former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Ryan Panchadsaram and his team independently used OKRs to fix the national healthcare website.

You’ve read about Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and how industry leaders like Susan Wojcicki, Sundar Pichai, and even Bono have used them to align, connect, and track company success — but what about when you’re not the top boss?

What if your senior leadership doesn’t use them? Can you still use OKRs for getting things done?

No matter what your job title is, or what kind of work you do — media, government, nonprofit, healthcare, etc. — you don’t need to ask for permission to use OKRs for yourself or your team.

Leadership can happen from any place in your organization. It all starts with the question, “What’s my rallying cry?”

Back in October 2013, when was in crisis, former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer (and now co-founder and Head Coach of What Matters, Ryan Panchadsaram, and his newly assembled team quickly set their goal: Make sure as many people as possible could enroll in health insurance.

Three weeks after a disastrous rollout, it was still up for debate whether it was best to save or scrap the website. The small team knew that focusing on the right Objectives was their best chance to turn things around.

Together, they came up with a simple goal: to fix for the vast majority of users.

They never asked for permission to use OKRs. And they never used the words “OKRs” with colleagues, contractors, or other government employees. But they did set clear benchmarks for success:

  • Make sure that 8 out of 10 people were able to apply using the site (up from 3)
  • Reduce response times to less than 250ms
  • Get the error rate below 0.1%
  • Improve site uptime from 42% to 99%

At first the data they needed to measure progress wasn’t easily accessible. But the tools they built gave them critical insights about how true progress was going.

“Every decision and every bug fixed had to let more people get health care,” said Panchadsaram. “It was an awesome way to focus on what mattered most.”

And while nobody else may have called them OKRs, they used them to frame discussions and prioritize the work.

WHAT are you measuring? WHY does it matter?

What’s your story? Let us know, and be sure to check out our FAQs, Stories, and Resources.

If you’re interested in starting our OKRs 101 course, click here.

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OKR Sessions: What Are OKRs? Objectives and Key Results Basics (VIDEO)

Ryan Panchadsaram, co-creator of with John Doerr, explains the basics of the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) goal-setting method.

Ryan Panchadsaram co-creator of, Ryan Panchadsaram okrs, Ryan Panchadsaram