Dear Andy,

If our organization has set an Objective with KRs relating to the completion of specific projects, then how should we approach the supporting departmental OKRs? For example, if the organizational Objective is something like:

O: Provide service that meets customer needs

and a corresponding KR is

KR: Construct X on time and on budget

would it be possible and advisable to have the KR become a departmental Objective? I guess we’re struggling to figure out how best to approach projects that absolutely must be realized within certain parameters (little flexibility).




Hello Evan!

Thanks so much for your great question.

The short answer? Yes and no.

The method you’ve asked about is called top-down cascading OKRs. To summarize, the KRs from the top-level organizational OKRs become departmental Objectives. Then the KRs of the departmental OKRs become the O for the team Objectives, and that process trickles down until you’ve reached the OKRs for individuals. It’s a great way to align goal setting and make sure everyone is working on the same thing (or, conversely, no one is working on the same thing).

Some organizations expect the cascade to be pretty literal — meaning that there is little or no variation in the words used as a KR becomes the O of the next layer down. Here’s an example:

Company-wide OKR:

Become the leading electric car dealership in the region.
Makeup 60 percent of all-electric car sales in the region.
Reach 90 percent in customer satisfaction for servicing and maintenance operations.
Increase brand visibility by 50 percent.
Research and implement customer relationship management software.
Open a second location by the end of the year.

Then the departmental OKR becomes

Make up 60 percent of all-electric car sales in the region.
Hire 2 new sales associates.
Increase the number of cars sold by 55 percent over the last year.
Increase sales revenue by 40 percent over the last year.
Implement monthly sales promotions.
Implement quarterly training sessions for all sales associates.

And so on and so forth. That being said, we always recommend letting each team write their own KRs to go with that O.

While the top-down method works for some, many companies find this rigid structure limiting. A team’s Objective is their statement of purpose — the reason why they’re all there. Would you feel more inspired to action if you were simply told what your purpose was or if you were given the space to figure it out yourself? As Steve Jobs once said, “We don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Many companies find it valuable to let departments and teams write their own OKRs, as long as they’re aligned with the organization’s top priorities.

In the end, it may take some time for you to figure out what works best for your company. Whichever path you chose, it’s important to regularly check in on your OKRs and honestly ask “is this working?” If it is, then great — keep going! If not? Scrap it and try again. Remember — while your project constraints may be inflexible, your OKRs most certainly aren’t.

Thanks so much for writing in, Evan, I hope this has been helpful for you. Please keep us in touch and let us know where you’ve landed in this process and how it’s working out for you.

Billy from the What Matters Team


Additional resource: Aligning Your OKRs

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