What is the OKR Framework?

Made popular in 2013 by Rick Klau, Partner at Google Ventures Startup Lab, in Startup Lab workshop: How Google sets goals: OKRs, the OKR Framework—which stands for Objectives and Key Results—was actually first developed by Andy Grove, the CEO of Intel Corporation from 1987 to 1998. It was then passed onto Google’s founders by former Intel employee-turned venture capitalist John Doerr.

In “Objectives and Key Results: Driving Focus, Alignment, and Engagement with OKRs,” OKRs are defined as “a critical thinking framework and ongoing discipline that seeks to ensure employees work together, focusing their efforts to make measurable contributions that drive the company forward.” In other words, OKRs make goals visible and the key results that show the progress made in achieving those goals measurable.

Initially inspired by Peter Drucker’s Management by Objectives system, the OKR Framework was later simplified to answer two fundamental goal-related questions:

  1. What do you want to achieve? (the objective)
  2. How will you measure progress towards achieving that goal? (the key result)

To look at it another way, an objective describes a broad (yet achievable) qualitative short-term goal, while key results measure incremental progress towards goal completion. Generally speaking, you should have two to five key results linked to each objective.

The OKR Framework should be revisited every three months. At the end of a quarter, for example, it’s used to both evaluate achievement against current goals and then also identify new objectives and key results for the quarter ahead.

Context of OKR Framework.

Context for OKRs

Behind the OKR Framework sits a people management strategy called “Management by Intent.” Instead of simply telling employees how to achieve specific goals, the slight nuance here is to communicate what you want them to achieve and then give them space and freedom to find a way of doing it on their own.

How to roll out the OKR Framework in your organization successfully?

For starters, building a strong objective comes down to a few key criteria:

Example of OKR Framework.

Similarly, key results have some criteria to adhere to as well:

Finally, the OKR Framework suggests using a 0-1 scale for assessing the amount of progress made against key results at the end of each quarter:

OKR Framework Scale.

A few OKR best practices to keep in mind

In “OKRs Done Right,” product management coach Itamar Gilad calls out five OKR pitfalls that you should avoid at all costs:

  1. Using OKRs to express a plan (Output OKRs): The purpose of the OKR Framework is to set achievable goals that can be achieved in relatively short timeframes. It is not to build a full go-to-market plan that includes specific actions or product features. This framework isn’t a top-down business strategy. Each team must take full ownership for setting and achieving their stated goals.
  2. Developing non-SMART key results: As a reminder, SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic, and Time-Bound. Failing to adhere to these criteria will lead to the development of vague, ambiguous, lofty, or unrealistic goals.
  3. Creating too many OKRs: When it comes to OKRs, less is more. Trying to tackle too many goals reduces a team’s ability to focus on what really matters the most during a given quarter. As a rule of thumb, it’s a standard best practice to set three objectives, with no more than five key results linked to each objective.
  4. Creating top-down OKRs with no bottom-up buy-in: Top-down goals are typically less likely to get buy-in and support at the team level. This is because managers often lack the same level of perspective, knowledge, and insight of the team members ‘in the trenches’ who are actually doing the work daily.
  5. Leveraging OKRs for performance evaluation: While it may seem like a good idea in theory, doing so can sometimes trigger bad, unethical, or overly competitive behaviors within a team. This can quickly undermine a team’s productivity and ability to make a positive impact over the long term.
Itamar Gilad portrait
Itamar Gilad Product management coach, speaker and author, Ex-Google & Microsoft PM (itamargilad.com).

Suggested resources to master the OKR Framework