what-is-okr

What Is OKR? The Goal-Setting System To Scale Up Your Business

Andy Grove, helped Intel become among the most valuable companies by 1997. In his years at Intel, he conceived a management and goal-setting system, called OKR, standing for “objectives and key results.” Venture capitalist and early investor in Google, John Doerr, systematized in the book “Measure What Matters.”

A glance at the OKR system

Back in the 1970s, Intel was among the most respected and admired companies in Silicon Valley. During that time Intel’s CEO, Andy Grove, was the man who managed to drive organizational change.

Andy Grove did that via a goal-setting process called OKRs or objectives and key results. Where the objective is the direction, toward which the organization needs to be in the medium term.

And the key results are milestones, things that allow the company to get there. Those key results need to be easily trackable, understandable and shared across the company.

In its purest form OKRs consists primarily of four superpowers:

Focus and Commit to priorities

This superpower focuses on making clear what matters and what doesn’t. More precisely it allows whole teams and departments to decide where the focus is and dispel any confusion

Align and connect for teamwork

One essential ingredient of the OKRs is its transparency and the fact that it needs to be openly shared across the organization, from the CEO down to each team and member of the organization. OKRs is not a siloed process but rather a transparent goal-setting tool

Track for accountability

OKRs are data-driven. It doesn’t stress though on a countless number of metrics that help to increase the level of noise. OKRs instead focuses on a few critical metrics to measure the impact on the business

Stretch for amazing

Objectives set in OKRs aren’t conservative, those are aggressive, hard yet possible and attainable. From this balance, OKRs brings the organization forward

Those superpowers are kept together by continuous improvement and corporate culture.

How is OKRs different from MBOs?

mbo-vs-okr

For those that know Management by Objectives or MBO, it might be easy to confuse it with OKRs. However, there are a few key differences. At its core, the MBOs focused on what while it was primarily top-down and risk-averse. 

By converse, OKRs focuses on the “what” (direction) and “how” (key results). Rather than an annual review process which might make it too complicated and formal OKRs follow a quarterly or monthly schedule which is public and transparent and usually bottom-up. 

Where MBOs’ goals are risk-averse, OKRs goals are aggressive and aspirational.

OKRs objectives have a few key elements such as:

  • Ambitious
  • Qualitative
  • Time-bound
  • Actionable by the team

While OKRs key results are primarily:

  • Measurable and quantifiable
  • Make the objective achievable
  • Lead to objective grading
  • Difficult but not impossible

The OKR cycle

  • Brainstorm: in this phase, the top senior leaders set the company-wide OKRs
  • Communicate: the OKRs can be communicated to everyone. At the same time teams develop their own OKRs to be shared 
  • Share: contributors share their OKRs but also negotiate them with their managers
  • Track: employees track and share their objectives with managers
  • Reflect: at the end of the cycle employees perform a self-assessment and what they have accomplished

OKR scoring system

How do you score the success of the OKRs?

There are two ways to score OKRs: 

The simple way

Andy Grove would use a very simple approach of “Yes/No” to understand whether the key results would be achieved, so whether the main objective also got accomplished. 

OKR example

Objective: Reach $100K in revenue this year:

  1. KR: build a newsletter with a thousand subscribers to sell $33K worth of products
  2. KR: attend three events where to find 10 clients worth $33K in contact value
  3. KR: publish 10 articles to share to sell $33K worth of products 

Track the results with the simple method:

  • Build a newsletter with a thousand subscribers to sell $33K worth of products? Yes
  • Attend three events where to find 10 clients worth $33K in contact value? No
  • Publish 10 articles to share to sell $33K worth of products? Yes

The advanced approach

Each key result can be scored on a scale. “0” meaning failure and “1.0” meaning the objective was achieved.

Therefore, you can score each result against its outcome and evaluate whether you failed, made progress, or achieved them.

It’s important in this phased to be honest about the self-assessment as the OKR itself requires self-reflection. 

OKR vs. KPI

It is important also not to confuse OKR with KPIs. KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) performance metrics for a specific activity. OKRs are aggressive and aspirational. They drive the key objectives underlying the plan. Where KPIs are a set of more objective standards to measure activity and operating plans. OKRs are set to achieve extraordinary goals.

OKR vs. SMART Goals

smart-goals
A SMART goal is any goal with a carefully planned, concise, and trackable objective. To be such a goal needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Bringing structure and trackability to goal setting increases the chances goals will be achieved, and it helps align the organization around those goals.

SMART goals are very similar in nature to the way objectives are defined within the OKR framework. The key difference is that OKR is a company-wide exercise, which target is to align an entire, potentially large company, to achieve goals and move fast, nonetheless size. SMART goals instead, might be more suited for individuals. 

Another core difference is that OKR’s objectives, even if achievable, they are very ambitious, often connected with 10x targets. Where SMART goals might and might not be as ambitious. 

OKR vs balanced scorecard

A balanced scorecard’s main aim is to track, control, and improve the execution of activities that can be monitored by executives and managers within an organization. The balanced scorecard differs in scope and aims with the OKR which is set to achieve an ambitious growth plan.

OKR and 10x: Moonshot thinking as a way to renew your business model

moonshot-thinking
Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.

In 2010, Google founded its research and development lab, called X, or Google X. As pointed out by Google “while almost every corporate research lab tries to improve the core product of the mother ship, X was conceived as a sort of anti–corporate research lab; its job was to solve big challenges anywhere except in Google’s core business.

This connects with Google’s founders 10x mindset, which we can apply back to the business world as it makes us switch from an incremental growth mindset to a 10x mindset.

What are some of the key elements? As I highlighted in the moonshot thinking guide, the key principles are: 

When you apply this sort of mindset, while it might seem way more difficult to implement in the short-term. In reality, over time, once the proper context has been developed it becomes cheaper and more effective. 

It’s important to align part of the team around 10x goals, as it enables the company to look for opportunities that are outside the core business model.

Just like in Google, where most of the organization is focused on maintaining and incrementally growing the core business model, Google is also invested in other bets, a strategic set of initiatives that could change its whole business model

Where Google is the most powerful advertising machine, with the cash invested in new bets, it might become something else in the future decades.

This is at the core of reinventing your business model

growth-strategies
In the FourWeekMBA growth matrix, you can apply growth for existing customers by tackling the same problems (gain mode). Or by tackling existing problems, for new customers (expand mode). Or by tackling new problems for existing customers (extend mode). Or perhaps by tackling whole new problems for new customers (reinvent mode).

Other Goal-Setting Frameworks And Theories of Motivation

Balanced Scorecard

balanced-scorecard
First proposed by accounting academic Robert Kaplan, the balanced scorecard is a management system that allows an organization to focus on big-picture strategic goals. The four perspectives of the balanced scorecard include financial, customer, business process, and organizational capacity. From there, according to the balanced scorecard, it’s possible to have a holistic view of the business.

Backcasting

backcasting
Businesses use backcasting to plan for a desired future by determining the steps required to achieve that future. Backcasting is the opposite of forecasting, where a business sets future goals and works toward them by maintaining the status quo.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

maslows-hierarchy-of-needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was developed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. His hierarchy, often depicted in the shape of a pyramid, helped explain his research on basic human needs and desires. In marketing, the hierarchy (and its basis in psychology) can be used to market to specific groups of people based on their similarly specific needs, desires, and resultant actions.

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

herzbergs-two-factor-theory
Herzberg’s two-factor theory argues that certain workplace factors cause job satisfaction while others cause job dissatisfaction. The theory was developed by American psychologist and business management analyst Frederick Herzberg. Until his death in 2000, Herzberg was widely regarded as a pioneering thinker in motivational theory.

Lightning Decision Jam

lockes-goal-setting-theory
The theory was developed by psychologist Edwin Locke who also has a background in motivation and leadership research. Locke’s goal-setting theory of motivation provides a framework for setting effective and motivating goals. Locke was able to demonstrate that goal setting was linked to performance.

Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model

nadler-tushman-congruence-model
The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model was created by David Nadler and Michael Tushman at Columbia University. The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model is a diagnostic tool that identifies problem areas within a company. In the context of business, congruence occurs when the goals of different people or interest groups coincide.

Personal SWOT Analysis

personal-swot-analysis
The SWOT analysis is commonly used as a strategic planning tool in business. However, it is also well suited for personal use in addressing a specific goal or problem. A personal SWOT analysis helps individuals identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

OGSM Framework

ogsm-framework
The OGSM framework is a means of creating a well-structured and actionable marketing strategy. Fundamentally, the OGSM framework allows businesses to first define what they want to achieve and then determine how they will get there. To provide direction for marketing teams, the acronym of OGSM (objectives, goals, strategies, measures) should be followed in sequential order. Here is a look at each in more detail.

McKinsey 7-S Model

mckinsey-7-s-model
The McKinsey 7-S Model was developed in the late 1970s by Robert Waterman and Thomas Peters, who were consultants at McKinsey & Company. Waterman and Peters created seven key internal elements that inform a business of how well positioned it is to achieve its goals, based on three hard elements and four soft elements.

Personal Mission Statement

personal-mission-statement
A personal mission statement clarifies what is important in life to an individual. A personal mission statement is a written statement of purpose that allows individuals to define their calling in life. It helps clarify goals, values, beliefs, or passions, communicate them, and better execute a personal growth strategy.

Suggested reading:

OKRs-book

 

Related Strategy Concepts: Go-To-Market StrategyMarketing StrategyBusiness ModelsTech Business ModelsJobs-To-Be DoneDesign ThinkingLean Startup CanvasValue ChainValue Proposition CanvasBalanced ScorecardBusiness Model CanvasSWOT AnalysisGrowth HackingBundlingUnbundlingBootstrappingVenture CapitalPorter’s Five ForcesPorter’s Generic StrategiesPorter’s Five ForcesPESTEL AnalysisSWOTPorter’s Diamond ModelAnsoffTechnology Adoption CurveTOWSSOARBalanced ScorecardOKRAgile MethodologyValue PropositionVTDF FrameworkBCG MatrixGE McKinsey MatrixKotter’s 8-Step Change Model.

Resources for your business:

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Connected Agile Frameworks

AIOps

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AIOps is the application of artificial intelligence to IT operations. It has become particularly useful for modern IT management in hybridized, distributed, and dynamic environments. AIOps has become a key operational component of modern digital-based organizations, built around software and algorithms.

Agile Methodology

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Agile started as a lightweight development method compared to heavyweight software development, which is the core paradigm of the previous decades of software development. By 2001 the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was born as a set of principles that defined the new paradigm for software development as a continuous iteration. This would also influence the way of doing business.

Agile Project Management

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Agile project management (APM) is a strategy that breaks large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. In the APM methodology, each project is completed in small sections – often referred to as iterations. Each iteration is completed according to its project life cycle, beginning with the initial design and progressing to testing and then quality assurance.

Agile Modeling

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Agile Modeling (AM) is a methodology for modeling and documenting software-based systems. Agile Modeling is critical to the rapid and continuous delivery of software. It is a collection of values, principles, and practices that guide effective, lightweight software modeling.

Agile Business Analysis

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Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

Business Model Innovation

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Continuous Innovation

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That is a process that requires a continuous feedback loop to develop a valuable product and build a viable business model. Continuous innovation is a mindset where products and services are designed and delivered to tune them around the customers’ problem and not the technical solution of its founders.

Design Sprint

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A design sprint is a proven five-day process where critical business questions are answered through speedy design and prototyping, focusing on the end-user. A design sprint starts with a weekly challenge that should finish with a prototype, test at the end, and therefore a lesson learned to be iterated.

Design Thinking

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Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.

DevOps

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DevOps refers to a series of practices performed to perform automated software development processes. It is a conjugation of the term “development” and “operations” to emphasize how functions integrate across IT teams. DevOps strategies promote seamless building, testing, and deployment of products. It aims to bridge a gap between development and operations teams to streamline the development altogether.

Dual Track Agile

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Product discovery is a critical part of agile methodologies, as its aim is to ensure that products customers love are built. Product discovery involves learning through a raft of methods, including design thinking, lean start-up, and A/B testing to name a few. Dual Track Agile is an agile methodology containing two separate tracks: the “discovery” track and the “delivery” track.

Feature-Driven Development

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Feature-Driven Development is a pragmatic software process that is client and architecture-centric. Feature-Driven Development (FDD) is an agile software development model that organizes workflow according to which features need to be developed next.

eXtreme Programming

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eXtreme Programming was developed in the late 1990s by Ken Beck, Ron Jeffries, and Ward Cunningham. During this time, the trio was working on the Chrysler Comprehensive Compensation System (C3) to help manage the company payroll system. eXtreme Programming (XP) is a software development methodology. It is designed to improve software quality and the ability of software to adapt to changing customer needs.

Lean vs. Agile

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The Agile methodology has been primarily thought of for software development (and other business disciplines have also adopted it). Lean thinking is a process improvement technique where teams prioritize the value streams to improve it continuously. Both methodologies look at the customer as the key driver to improvement and waste reduction. Both methodologies look at improvement as something continuous.

Lean Startup

startup-company
A startup company is a high-tech business that tries to build a scalable business model in tech-driven industries. A startup company usually follows a lean methodology, where continuous innovation, driven by built-in viral loops is the rule. Thus, driving growth and building network effects as a consequence of this strategy.

Kanban

kanban
Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.

Rapid Application Development

rapid-application-development
RAD was first introduced by author and consultant James Martin in 1991. Martin recognized and then took advantage of the endless malleability of software in designing development models. Rapid Application Development (RAD) is a methodology focusing on delivering rapidly through continuous feedback and frequent iterations.

Scaled Agile

scaled-agile-lean-development
Scaled Agile Lean Development (ScALeD) helps businesses discover a balanced approach to agile transition and scaling questions. The ScALed approach helps businesses successfully respond to change. Inspired by a combination of lean and agile values, ScALed is practitioner-based and can be completed through various agile frameworks and practices.

Spotify Model

spotify-model
The Spotify Model is an autonomous approach to scaling agile, focusing on culture communication, accountability, and quality. The Spotify model was first recognized in 2012 after Henrik Kniberg, and Anders Ivarsson released a white paper detailing how streaming company Spotify approached agility. Therefore, the Spotify model represents an evolution of agile.

Test-Driven Development

test-driven-development
As the name suggests, TDD is a test-driven technique for delivering high-quality software rapidly and sustainably. It is an iterative approach based on the idea that a failing test should be written before any code for a feature or function is written. Test-Driven Development (TDD) is an approach to software development that relies on very short development cycles.

Timeboxing

timeboxing
Timeboxing is a simple yet powerful time-management technique for improving productivity. Timeboxing describes the process of proactively scheduling a block of time to spend on a task in the future. It was first described by author James Martin in a book about agile software development.

Scrum

what-is-scrum
Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.

Scrum Anti-Patterns

scrum-anti-patterns
Scrum anti-patterns describe any attractive, easy-to-implement solution that ultimately makes a problem worse. Therefore, these are the practice not to follow to prevent issues from emerging. Some classic examples of scrum anti-patterns comprise absent product owners, pre-assigned tickets (making individuals work in isolation), and discounting retrospectives (where review meetings are not useful to really make improvements).

Scrum At Scale

scrum-at-scale
Scrum at Scale (Scrum@Scale) is a framework that Scrum teams use to address complex problems and deliver high-value products. Scrum at Scale was created through a joint venture between the Scrum Alliance and Scrum Inc. The joint venture was overseen by Jeff Sutherland, a co-creator of Scrum and one of the principal authors of the Agile Manifesto.

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