20+ OKR best practice tips from experts
If you're just starting out with OKRs, or you've hit a sticking point, we've got you covered! We asked some leading experts in the field what their best practice tips are, to make sure that you start off on the right foot!
Tl;dr - A selection of the most popular best practice tips:
- Take time to write a technically sound and effective OKR that is specific, and designed to drive business impact
- Every time you set OKRs, start with a clean sheet of paper, forget about your backlog, partially done work, and sunk costs
- Less is more: Start with a few OKRs that are shared with the wider organisation
- Do a retrospective after each cycle, and ask what worked, what didn’t work, and how you can improve your management practices
- Give OKRs primacy over your backlog
- Give and get regular feedback on key results – what you've achieved, what you're trying, what you're learning in the process
- Develop & align OKRs in cross-functional workshops, not in silos or departments
- Nothing matters as much as the Cadence
- Ensure the entire Senior Management Team is on board and has a clear understanding before setting off
- & much more below.....
Christina Wodtke, Radical Focus Author, OKR Expert, Consultant & Stanford Lecturer
Nothing matters as much as the Cadence. I emphasise the importance of key results actually being results and being outcomes, rather than outputs, as that does matter, but not as much as the cadence. The single most important thing is every Monday to say "what am I really trying to do", and every Friday saying "am I closer or farther away from that thing." The Cadence is the difference between setting goals and hoping the goal fairy will someday give you what you asked for vs setting goals and achieving them.
Paul Niven, Global OKR Coach & OKR Author
Take the time at the outset of your implementation to train everyone who will be creating OKRs how to write a technically-sound, and effective OKR that is specific and designed to drive business impact. Without the foundational skill of writing effective OKRs, it is virtually impossible to achieve any of the many benefits the system has to offer.
Allan Kelly, Agile OKR Coach & OKR Author
Give OKRs primacy over your backlog - I’ve even been known to say “throw your backlog away.” Reverse engineering your OKRs from your backlog limits your thinking and ambition. Every time you set OKRs, start with a clean sheet of paper, forget about your backlog, partially done work, and sunk costs. Ask yourself: given what we know now what is the right thing to do? - this is akin to Amazon’s “Day-1” philosophy.
Kenneth Paul Lewis, Co-Founder, and Director at OKR International, Angel Investor, and Leadership Coach
Less is more: Start with a few OKRs that are shared with the wider organisation. OKRs on customer, culture, talent, effectiveness, innovation etc. can easily encourage a larger part of the organisation to contribute. Do not have only finance-based OKRs.
Mukom Tamon, Chief Excellence Officer™️ Academy, OKRs, 4DX & Lean Six Sigma expert
Create a 1-page visual that communicates the company’s business model and how each team makes it work e.g. the SIP&POCOI canvas.
Cansel Sörgens, Business Coach, OKR Coach & Trainer
I encourage everyone to ask the question “why” for every item in roadmaps, backlogs, project plans, and to-do lists. Any person in any role can ask questions such as "Why do we do this?”, "What’s the expected outcome of this?”, no matter whatever method or framework is applied. With these kinds of questions, you can start a conversation about the outcomes and value, which is crucial for meaningful OKRs.
Richard Russell, OKR & Leadership Coach
Do a retrospective after each cycle, and ask what worked, what didn’t work, and how you can improve your management practices using OKRs as a framework. When thinking about what “worked”, focus on what you were hoping to achieve rather than softer “good feelings”. And when you’re thinking about improving your OKR practice, focus more on your leadership methods based on OKRs, and adapt OKRs to suit your needs, rather than religiously following a set of OKR rules.
Mike Burrows, Lean, Agile, and Kanban Pioneer
Regular feedback on key results – what we’ve achieved, what we’re trying, what we’re learning in the process.
Carsten Ley, OKR Goal-Setting Coach
Develop & align OKR in cross-functional workshops, not in silos or departments. If you already start on top to build siloed company OKRs for e.g. sales, then you cannot expect the team layer to work cross-functional together.
Madeleine Silva, OKR Coach & Trainer
Start Simple and keep it simple.
Bart Den Haak, Consultant & OKR Author
Using a Single OKR at company level and team level. You can read more about this in my book: Moving the Needle With Lean OKRs.
Brad Dunn, Chief Product Officer & OKR book Author
Every week, get everyone together and ask them what is one thing stopping us from reaching his objective today? Write it down. Then come up with some plans to fix that barrier, and assign it to someone to work on.
Paul Barker, OKR & Strategy Coach
- Be accountable
- Accountability is ingrained in the methodology. But when we say “be accountable”, it’s not just for Objective and Key Results
- OKRs is a means to an end, not the end itself. The point is not to implement OKRs - you want to implement OKRs to solve some other challenge (strategic alignment, increased communication, etc. - pick your challenge!), and OKRs is a piece of the puzzle.
- Build a relationship with a coach or an internal OKR champion who can keep the team accountable to the rationale for OKRs. This person should pull you out of the detail at least a few times a year to ensure you keep the eye on the prize
Mark Richard, OKR Coach
Ensure the entire SMT (Senior Management Team) is on board and has a clear understanding before setting off. Run the OKRs at this level for a quarter or two before starting out with the rest of the company.
Khalil Medina, CEO & OKR Coach
Prepare the company to work with OKRs
- Mission, vision, and values
- Business model
- Structure (right people on the right seat)
Christina Lange, OKR Coach & Speaker
Don’t strive for perfection (or for the best-formulated OKR-Set). See it as a strategic inspect & adapt framework that helps you to achieve more impact.
Jean-Luc Koning, OKR & Systemic Coach, Founder of OkrConsulting.fr
If I had to spot only one good practice among all those that should be applied when working with OKRs, it would be THE ART OF ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. Indeed, at the beginning of the OKR cycle, in order to draft, design, create OKRs, you need to ask the right questions. All along the cycle, in order to refine, evaluate, score OKRs, you need to ask the right questions. At the end of the cycle, in order to reflect, reset, refine OKRs for the next cycle you need to ask the right questions.
And in this area, as in many others, asking the right questions often amounts to asking as few as possible. Choose the most powerful ones so that you bring out the most valuable answers. Once again, less is more!
Catherine Chen, OKR Coach
Do not map everything to your OKRs. One of the benefits of using OKRs is to improve focus. Many teams would like to put everything they do into OKRs, but OKRs are not set to manage your to-do list or business as usual. If we include everything into OKRs, we will lose focus. My mentor Ben Larmote once suggested that we classify what we do into 3 categories: “Key results”,” Health metrics,” and “Just Do it”. For example, “To improve customer satisfaction from 85% to 90%” is a good key result. “Maintain the percentage of bugs within 2%” is a health metric.“ Email the quotation to ABC client” is a “Just Do it.” Distinguishing “key results” with “health metrics” and “Just Do it” is something we need to be very clear about if we want to see results from OKRs application.