What is an OKR? Definition and examples

What is an OKR? Definition and examples

by Ryan Panchadsaram & Sam Prince

Published on 06.26.2019

The definition of “OKRs” is “Objectives and Key Results.” It is a collaborative goal-setting tool used by teams and individuals to reach for their most ambitious goals with measurable results. OKRs are how you track progress.

Whether talking about office operations, software engineering, nonprofits or more, OKRs work the same for setting goals throughout many company levels. They can also work for personal goals and can even be used by individuals to get things done at places where senior leadership doesn’t use them.

An Objective is simply what is to be achieved, no more and no less. By definition, objectives are significant, concrete, action-oriented, and (ideally) inspirational. When properly designed and deployed, they’re a vaccine against fuzzy thinking—and fuzzy execution.

Key Results benchmark and monitor how we get to the objective. Effective KRs are specific and time-bound, aggressive yet realistic. Most of all, they are measurable and verifiable. You either meet a key result’s requirements or you don’t; there is no gray area, no room for doubt. At the end of the designated period, typically a quarter, we do a regular check and grade the key results as fulfilled or not.

Where an objective can be long-lived, rolled over for a year or longer, key results evolve as the work progresses. Once they are all completed, the objective is necessarily achieved.

Who created OKRs?

OKRs were created by Andy Grove at Intel and taught to John Doerr by him. Since then, many companies have adopted them, including Allbirds, Apartment Therapy, Netflix, and inspiring nonprofits like Code for America.

Early on in "Measure What Matters", Doerr writes about “MBOs," or “Management by Objectives.” MBOs were the brainchild of Peter Drucker and provided Andy Grove a basis for his eventual theory of OKRs. In fact, Grove's name for them originally was “iMBOs," for Intel Management by Objectives. However, despite the original reverential name, Grove created some key differences between the two which he passed along to Doerr.

Grove rarely mentioned objectives without tying them to “key results,” a term he seems to have coined himself. Other key differences between MBOs and OKRs are that the latter are quarterly, not annual, and they are divorced from compensation.

Doerr was the one who crafted the name "OKRs," which he assembled from Grove's lexicon.

The most famous story about OKRs is that of Doerr introducing the philosophy to Google’s founders in 1999. Gathered around a ping-pong table which doubled as a boardroom table, Doerr presented a PowerPoint to the young founding team, which included Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Marissa Mayer, Susan Wojcicki, and Salar Kamangar.

Doerr's Objective and Key Results for the PowerPoint presentation were this:

O: Build a planning model for their company, as measured by three key results:

  • KR1: I would finish my presentation on time.
  • KR2: We’d create a sample set of quarterly Google OKRs.
  • KR3: I’d gain management agreement for a three-month OKR trial.

Google then set their OKRs and the rest is history.

OKR examples

But what are some other examples?

Let’s set an objective: “to build the world’s tallest building.” The tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, so to achieve our objective, the building we are constructing needs to be taller. Our first key result would be: “building has more than 163 floors and is taller than 2,436 feet.” To ensure our project moves on time, we add more key results: “plans to be complete by November 2018," “environmental review complete by March 2019," “construction begins by December 2019," and “building opens by January 2022."

When written out, it would look like this:

O: Build the world’s tallest building.

  • KR1: Building has more than 163 floors and is taller than 2,436 feet.
  • KR2: Plans to be complete by November 2018KR: Environmental review complete by March 2019.
  • KR3: Construction begins by December 2019.
  • KR4: Building opens by January 2022.

As discussed earlier, OKRs can work for all industries and even personal goals. Here are a couple of select examples:

Personal goal OKR

Doerr was asked about his personal OKR in an interview on Recode Decode. He answered, “You know, my daughters have both left home, but I had read and I believe that having family dinners together was a good thing. So, I set an OKR, shared it with my team to be home for dinner by 6:00 p.m. 20 nights a month and be present, turning off the phone. I put a switch on the router. We shut down the internet to the whole house.”

“It’s not only the quantity but the quality,” he added.

This personal OKR would be written out like this:

O: Have more quality family time as measured by:

  • KR1: Getting home for dinner by 6 p.m, 20 nights a month.
  • KR2: Being present by turning off the internet router to eliminate distractions.

And while it is a "personal" OKR, Doerr was transparent from the onset. Not only did he share it with his colleagues and family, but he also shared it in an interview.

Nonprofit OKR

  • O: Ensure funders feel informed and encouraged to continue support.
  • KR1: Establish 3 funder check-ins throughout the quarter.
  • KR2: Develop an impact report by the end of the quarter.
  • KR3: Retain at least 40% of donors.

For other examples of industry-specific OKRs, click here.

Are there different kinds of OKRs?

OKRs can be two things, committed or aspirational.

Committed OKRs are like their name suggests: commitments. When graded at the end of an OKR cycle, a committed OKR is expected to have a passing grade.

Aspirational OKRs, on-the-other-hand, are sometimes called stretch goals or "moonshots." The pathway to an aspirational OKR is expected to be forged since no one else has gotten there before. They also may live beyond an OKR cycle or even be transferred between team members.

To learn more about committed and aspirational OKRs, click here.

Where can I get more information?

This system is deceptively simple, but when used properly, good OKRs will equip your organization with superpowers to create things like high output management in all your business goals. Learn more about OKRs by reading Measure What Matters or exploring more FAQs, Resources, and Stories right here on WhatMatters.com.

Or, if you're 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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