It’s clear KRs must have a metric, but I’ve seen inconsistent usage of metrics in Objectives. It seems like it should be clear that you’ve met the Objective if you’ve made significant 70% or above progress on all of your KRs. Can you clarify?
Thanks for writing in and for your great question.
Though there are no strict edicts against including metrics in Objectives, in general, we discourage it. Here’s why.
In their purest form, Objectives are ambitious and often qualitative. Change the world, crush a competitor, make a splash, whip something into shape, etc., etc. Key Results are time-bound, metric-focused measurements of growth or change that tell you whether your Objective has or hasn’t been achieved. When writing your OKRs, you need to first ask, “What do we want to do?” (Objective) and “How will I prove we progressed?” (Key Results). It’s the relationship between the lofty and poetic Objectives and the sharply defined KR metrics that make OKRs so special.
Assigning a number to your Objective can limit the focus of your ambition to that number, instead of on underlying intention. If your first round Objective contains metrics, try digging one level deeper. For instance, say you work for a streaming company and your initial Objective was to “decrease crashes by 40% percent.” Ask yourself: Well, if we did that, what would that improve? If the answer is something meaningful, like improved customer experience, there’s a good chance that’s your real Objective. “Decrease crashes by 40%” could then become a KR to the more meaningful Objective, along with any other high-leverage metrics that will tell you when the customer’s experience has improved.
That being said, some teams find including a metric as a supporting statement in their Objective to be beneficial. For example, in the book, Speed and Scale, John Doerr’s team sets this OKR for tackling the climate crisis:
O: Remove Carbon (10 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year).
Or when Ryan Panchadsaram and his team were tasked with fixing the national healthcare website:
O: Fix healthcare.gov for the majority of users (majority being 66%).
You’ll note, though, that these metrics are there to provide further clarity on the Objective, they aren’t the idea of the Objective itself.
Metrics can also make sense in Objectives if a KR from a higher-up OKR is cascaded directly to a team level. Say a public transportation company set this top-level OKR:
O: Be the most reliable mode of transportation.
KR1: Reduce wait time to 5 minutes during peak hours.
They then may chose to directly cascade KR1 to another team, whose OKR would then look something like this:
O: Reduce wait time to 5 minutes during peak hours.
KR1: Increase trains in service from 12 to 18.
Keep in mind though, this strict cascade works best if, like the above example, the KR in itself is inspiring and challenging enough to become a team Objective. If the KR feels too granular, teams may choose to reword the cascaded KR to clarify what this team needs to rally around.
To your second point, when writing your KRs, ask yourself: What would happen if you got 100% of your Key Results? Would the Objective be achieved automatically? If not, you’re missing a KR. If it does add up, scoring the KRs is the score for your Objective. So, it isn’t necessary to assign metrics to an Objective in order to grade them.
To sum it all up, writing a great Objective takes time, much thought, and, often, more than one draft. How succinctly can you describe what success looks like? When you can describe success with specificity but without numbers, you’ve taken a healthy swing at a great Objective.
Well, Lee, I hope that answers your question. Thanks for writing in, and best of luck to you on your OKR journey.
Billy from the What Matters Team