Dear Andy,

When our company (we’re a startup) began to leverage OKRs to guide our company’s focus each quarter, some members of leadership raised concerns that if we didn’t capture everything we wanted to accomplish in the quarter in the OKRs, it wouldn’t get done. This caused the leadership team to jam KRs under Objectives that were only loosely tied, or they added more Objectives until the list grew to more than 5. The result was a long list of OKRs that lacked clarity and logical consistency.

Were we correct in trying to capture all necessary company activities under the OKRs? Or should teams have the expectation that other activities, like “Keep the Lights On” (KTLO) – necessary to the business – should still be completed? If so, how should we resolve prioritization issues between KTLO and OKR work that arise due to resource constraints?

Thanks for your help!


We're sharing reader questions, answered by the team. Named in the honor of Andy Grove, the creator of OKRs.

Hi Jake!

Thanks for writing in. It’s easy for companies to try to do too many things at once. You hit the nail on the head when you said teams with too many Objectives and Key Results “lack clarity and logical consistency.”

OKRs are not the sum of all things. Don’t try to use them to encompass the entire scope of your company’s work. OKRs reflect your company’s top priorities — one cycle at a time. If everything is labeled a priority, the term ‘priority’ loses its meaning. We recommend no more than 2-3 Objectives at a time, with 5 or fewer Key Results for each.

Many elements of your work will not be included in your OKRs. It doesn’t mean they aren’t important or should be neglected, it means they live alongside your OKRs, rather than in them. In the book Measure What Matters, John Doerr quotes Intel executive Bill Davidow: “If my Objective is to grow a beautiful rose bush, I know without asking that you also want me to keep the lawn green.” OKRs don’t describe every single thing your company does; they highlight the destination you want to arrive at by the end of the cycle, and significant metrics of progress made in working towards it.

If a team is consistently unable to get beyond KTLO work and into their OKRs, it could signal a few possibilities:

1) The expectations on the team’s capacity are unrealistic. If the team is taking on more than they can handle on a day-to-day basis, they won’t make much progress on their OKRs. If this is the case, use OKRs as a roadmap to make day-to-day work more effective. You may need to slow down on some things, or borrow resources from other teams temporarily, like this team at State of California. Once your operations are in better shape, see if that also opens up capacity for the OKRs.

2) The OKRs you’ve written aren’t actually the priorities of the organization. Here’s a tip: if the OKRs aren’t organically brought on a regular basis (i.e. no one’s talking about them), there’s a good chance they aren’t the right OKRs.

3) The team doesn’t feel empowered to take on OKRs above their KTLO work. Make sure they understand how their day-to-day work contributes to the OKRs. Let them know that you’re using this system to make their work more effective, not their lives more difficult. Again, fewer OKRs will help teams balance and prioritize.

Thanks for writing in, Jake, and best of luck to you on your OKR journey.


Billy from the What Matters Team

We're sharing reader questions, answered by the team. Named in the honor of Andy Grove, the creator of OKRs.