Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

OKR is short for Objectives and Key Results. Essentially, OKRs have three aspects that are all interrelated:

  1. OKRs are defined for setting and communicating goals.
  2. OKRs are a system that synchronizes long-term and short-term goals as well as objectives of different teams.
  3. OKRs are an agile process, characterized by continuity and a high level of employee involvement.

The goal is stated in qualitative terms (objective). It stands for itself and calls for action. An objective is a directional goal with an emotional and motivational function for teams and employees. This objective is linked to 2 and a maximum of 5 quantitative metrics, the so-called key results, which allow a clear and unambiguous evaluation. The Key Results drive the success of the Objective. This means that if the Key Results are achieved, the Objective is also achieved. In this way, the Key Results provide a yardstick for evaluating the achievement of the Objectives.

In their simplest form (based on John Doerr’s design), OKRs are documented as the following:

We will [objective] as measured by [set of key results].

In practice, there are certainly deviations from this, but the important thing to remember is to fundamentally think in terms of outcomes rather than activities while writing them. Ideally, the outcome is always linked to the customer or recipient of the service. After all, the effect should be achieved at this level.

OKRs emerge as part of an organization’s strategy planning. They enable the organization’s actual work and performance to be aligned with its intended future direction.

In practice, OKRs are broken down “along the hierarchy” in an organization. While this is not particularly wrong, it can lead to dysfunctions in an organization that uses scaled Scrum frameworks. In a SAFe® environment in the “Full SAFe®” expansion stage, for example, applying OKRs up to the portfolio epic level makes sense (“Do the portfolio epics contribute to the OKRs and thus to the business strategy?”), but not at the feature, enabler or even user story level.

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