How many OKRs should you have?

How many OKRs should you have?

by Ryan Panchadsaram & Sam Prince


Published on 07.09.2019

A common question that any organization starting with OKRs has is: How many OKRs should you have? While the answer is the same across the board, there may be some nuances depending on an organization's size. However, simplicity is always key. To capture the ambitions of your organization, you should only have a maximum of 5-7 objectives with 3-5 key results. These should all fit on one or two pages.

On these pages should be concise, one-sentence objectives. Objectives are significant, action-oriented, and, hopefully, inspiring. They represent the "North Star," which guides with its light every team member in the same, bright direction. These objectives should be supported with key results that lay out how you measurably achieve them.

A key result will explain how you will follow the North Star. It is specific, time-bound, and measurable. Just like an objective, a key result should fit on one line, too.

Put them together, and you have an OKR.

OKRs for all sizes

As stated above, there may be some nuances depending on an organization's size when using OKRs.

For larger organizations, you may have multiple levels of OKRs that map to each department, team, and individual. Most of the OKRs will be top-level that will cascade downwards. These will then be taken on by department heads, managers, and individuals who will then make those key results one of their objectives. In turn, at each layer, there will be an additional 5-7 objectives paired with 3-5 key results that capture the work needed to be done.

When your organization is small—less than ten people—you may only have a set of organizational OKRs for everyone to share. Each key result should have an owner responsible for its delivery.

More than half of the objectives should come from within the organization, not dictated from the top. John Doerr writes in "Measure What Matters" how to balance this:

High-functioning teams thrive on a creative tension between top-down and bottom-up goal setting, a mix of aligned and unaligned OKRs. In times of operational urgency, when simple doing takes precedence, organizations may choose to be more directive. But when the numbers are strong and a company has grown too cautious and buttoned-up, a lighter touch may be just right. When leaders are attuned to the fluctuating needs of both the business and their employees, the mix of top-down and bottom-up goals generally settles at around half-and-half.

OKRs also work for personal goals, too. You can use them for training for such things as running a 10k or even getting out of work and home to dinner on time. For these goals, the most important thing to do when setting the OKR is to practice transparency. Transparency creates unambiguous signals for everyone, even if they're not involved.

Rules to follow

  • At the end of the day, keep things simple. Some rules to follow: 5-7 objectives, 4-5 key results. Less is more. We've seen organizations that have only 2 top-level objectives guiding their company. One page ideal, two pages max. Strive to be concise and specific.
  • We've seen an entire public company's top-level OKRs fit on a single PowerPoint slide.
  • Everyone should be able to see them. Transparency is key. For collective commitment from your entire organization, make the drafting process as open as possible by using a free OKR tool like Google Docs. You can also check out our official ones here, like BetterWorks.
  • Just because you set an OKR doesn't mean you have to see it to completion if it's not working further along in the OKR cycle. It's not useful or motivating to stubbornly hold onto objectives that are no longer relevant or attainable.
  • It's okay for an OKR to transfer from cycle to cycle, especially if it's an aspirational one. These sorts of goals tend to take longer or even change departmental hands a few times—as long as it's still relevant.

Where can I get more information?

OKRs are a powerful goal setting tool used by teams to reach for their most audacious goals. There's a reason why so many great companies like Google use them. Learn more about OKRs by reading "Measure What Matters" or exploring more FAQs, Stories, and Resources right here on WhatMatters.com.

Or, if you are looking for an OKR coach, check this out.

Ryan Panchadsaram (@rypan) is the co-founder of WhatMatters.com and is the technical advisor to John Doerr at Kleiner Perkins.

Sam Prince (@samprincetweets) is a journalist, storyteller, and the content strategist of WhatMatters.com. 


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