Summarized by Bill Gelbaugh from: Objectives and Key Results by Paul R. Niven and Ben Lamorte. With additional material from Measure What Matters, Lattice OKR 101 and Perdoo
CRAFTING: THE PROCESS TO CREATE GREAT OKRs
Having discussed characteristics and tips for creating effective OKRs in part one, we are now ready to commence creating great OKRs.
We recommend not using a large brainstorming group to draft your OKRs. Use a small team. A very small team, most likely two or three people. OKR teams are formed to tackle specific business problems, and to discover creative solutions to problems. People require deep, time-consuming concentration on the task. It’s not realistic to expect a group of 20 (or more) to drop everything and spend the time necessary to create a draft set of OKRs. However, for two or three people, despite the inevitable demands on their time, and while it may not be convenient, it is possible. The small team you convene can invest the required time to delve into the background necessary to create your OKR: Your place in the competitive environment, scrutinizing your strategy, determining your core capabilities, and so on. These are the raw materials that lead to effective OKRs, and they must be carefully considered.
Whether it’s the corporate level or department, we suggest your small team document two to three objectives with one to three key results each. They should be written at a stretch level (20%-30% beyond what you feel is achievable) to inspire.
Once your small team has completed their initial draft set of OKRs, submit to the wider team for review prior to the first actual full team meeting/workshop. In attendance for the workshop, we would expect the leadership team if you are working on your corporate level OKRs, or the team-level leadership group if it’s a team set of OKRs. The purpose of the session is to critically examine what has been prepared, have the small team explain their choices, generate debate (a vigorous debate we hope), and ultimately come to an agreement on the set of OKRs you will use for this next quarter.
Much of the work in modern organizations is cross-functional in nature–teams working together to solve problems or create new modes of working that will benefit multiple areas of the business. OKRs created at the team level must be created with this context front of mind.
The small team or dynamic duo we profiled in the previous steps should take your draft OKRs on a road trip around your organization, discussing dependent OKRs with other team leads. You’ll be liaising with colleagues to discuss how some of your OKRs depend on their best efforts while sharing with other teams how you are uniquely positioned to assist them in meeting their goals.
Scoring will often help you in assessing the level of dependency between you and another team. For example, if you determine that one of your key results is highly dependent on another team’s assistance, your aim in meeting with them is to ensure they acknowledge the dependency and pledge their support, which will then allow you to ratchet up your targets because you’re confident they’ll provide their backing when necessary. The converse is also true; other teams may rely on you to meet their targets and, thus, you’ll work with them to show how you can help.
Assuming you’re creating OKRs at the team level, during this step the team lead and partners will confer with their superior (most likely a member of the senior executive team) to receive final approval to use the OKRs in the upcoming quarter. It’s also important to ensure that the executive understands the rationale behind the scoring targets you’ve chosen. The last thing you want when results begin to accumulate is mismatched expectations that lead to confusion and disappointment.
There are two components in the final step. First is the fairly rote necessity of loading your OKRs into a software system or whatever product (Google Sheets, Excel, etc.) you deem appropriate to track your results each week. A simple process indeed, but a vital one nonetheless. OKRs must be rigorously and formally cataloged and monitored to insure the integrity of the entire OKR process.
The second task is transmitting the OKRs to your team and beyond. We encourage you to communicate them widely, using a variety of media. One method, sharing them in an in-person venue, such as an all hands or town hall style meeting is strongly recommended for a number of reasons. Chiefly, it provides an opportunity for employees who were not directly involved in OKRs creation to ask questions of those who were there when the critical decisions were made.
THE OKR CRAFTING PROCESS
Following are some practical examples of Objectives, Key Results and Initiatives to help you get started.
For further inspiration, this football team graph is an example of OKRs in action. Starting with OKRs for Head Coach, you can see how objectives and key results for other coaches fall into place to support the overall team objective.
OKR | Football Team Example
HOW MANY OKRs SHOULD WE HAVE?
The late screenwriter Nora Ephron left us with a number of Hollywood classics, including When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and Silkwood. All three were Academy Award-nominated for writing. Before she turned her talents to the screen, Ephron was a journalist, and perhaps her greatest gift in that world was the ability to capture the essence of a story. She learned the importance of identifying a story’s core early on, at Beverly Hills High School, from her Journalism 101 teacher Charlie Simms. Here’s the enduring lesson Simms passed on to Ephron.
He started the first day of class by explaining the concept of a lead. He explained that a lead (i.e., the leading sentence) contains the why, what, when, and who of the piece. It covers the essential information. Then he gave his students their first assignment; write the lead to a story. He presented the facts of the Story:
Kenneth L Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new school methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown.
The students then hammered away on their typewriters outlining their lead. Each attempted to summarize the who, what, where, and why as concisely as possible: “Margaret Mead, Maynard Hutchins, and Governor Brown will address the faculty on…”; “Next Thursday, the high school faculty will…” Simms reviewed the students’ leads and put them aside. He then informed them that they were all wrong. The lead, he said, was “There will be no school Thursday!” In that instant, Ephron realized journalism was not just regurgitating facts but about figuring out the point. It wasn’t enough to know the who, what, when and where; you had to understand what it meant. Moreover, why it mattered.
When it comes to how many OKRs you produce, we recommend you adhere to the tried and true aphorism: less is more.
Ephron later noted that what Simms had taught her worked just as well in life as it does in journalism. It also works great for OKRs. The day you set foot in the conference room with your team to debate and decide on your OKRs, you’re searching for the business equivalent of the “lead.” Just think of the universe of possibilities that awaits you when someone says, “Okay, what are our most important objectives?” You have customer concerns, shareholders or partners, employees, competitors, the list is endless. They are the organizational equivalent of the “why, what, when, and who.” Your challenge is to cut through the clutter and pinpoint exactly what is most important to you, what will have the most impact right now.
When it comes to how many OKRs you produce, we recommend you adhere to the tried and true aphorism: less is more. There is a huge opportunity cost to increasing your inventory of OKRs. Primarily, lack of clarity and focus around what the company’s priorities truly are. When you begin your OKR process, we recommend you generate a small number (a handful most likely) of objectives that are crucial to the execution of your strategy for the year. Then change tactical objectives each quarter to move the strategic objective forward.
Bill Gelbaugh is one of our Senior Partners here at Outhouse and champions our OKR efforts.