Drafting your OKR can be challenging, no matter how often you have already done it. However, your OKRs will only unfold their impact if you carry out the drafting process thoroughly. Therefore, it never hurts to recall the most important quality criteria for drafting good OKRs.
If you want to know more about the OKR framework, take a look at our article "Objectives and Key Results (OKR) - A Definition"
Objective Quality Check Criteria
1. Inspiring Goal State
The Objective is a desirable state in the future, an inspiring goal. Inspiration can be taken from your company’s north stars, your vision, mission, or purpose. However, make sure your Objective is ambitious but achievable within one OKR cycle. If you define over-ambitious goals - so-called stretch or moonshot goals - make sure to mark them so, and don’t consider their (full) non-achievement as a failure, but as part of the learning process. Even reaching 70 or 80 percent in a stretch goal can be a big win.
An Objective is qualitative and not measurable by itself. Therefore, try focussing on your outcome, instead of output. Don’t just ask yourself what you want to work on, but why. What value do you want to create for your (internal or external) customer? Your Objective should not contain metrics or instructions on how to reach it. It might be tempting to already put on paper how the Objective can be achieved. Nevertheless, this could rob you of your autonomy and creativity in finding your own solutions.
3. Simple and specific
Your Objective should not be confusing or overloaded with information. Cut it down to its core and keep it concise. The terms you work with should be familiar to your colleagues and used synonymously. Be specific. The ambition to “improve” or “optimize” something is great but vague. Make sure, everybody in your company, not just those working on it, will understand your Objective without explanation. This supports one of the core ideas of OKR: transparency. Decomposing your Objective into its key components (Customer, Desired State, Value) might help you formulate a simple sentence.
Not only the Objective itself should be compact and focused but also the number of your Objectives. Revise and prioritize them. It guarantees focus during the cycle. Best practices have shown that working with a maximum of three Objectives per organizational unit is the most effective.
Key Result Quality Check Criteria
Your Key Results are the drivers to achieving the goal, and therefore directly related to your Objective. To address every promise you make in your Objective, we suggest you define 2-5 separate Key Results. If you cannot cover your Objective with 2-5 Key Results, you can also shorten the Objective. The Key Results should be as independent of each other as possible, so failing at one does not impact the success of others.
2. Controllable Lead Metrics
Key Results ideally are lead metrics. You should be able to have a direct influence on them and progress should be visible during the cycle. Your Key Results allow you to steer and course-correct. This is why they are a great addition to KPIs. Some Objectives cannot be measured with actual numbers due to their characteristics or their maturity. Sometimes, teams simply don’t have the capabilities to measure the value they are creating either. If so, don’t give up on this, but rather define your Key Results as milestones. Milestones build upon each other and are therefore not independent. However, milestones indicate progress better than binary Key Results. Binary Key Results only tell you if you achieved a goal or not.
3. Not task-related
Key Results are no initiatives or to-do lists. OKRs are implemented to move your strategy forward. They are not supposed to account for all of your daily operative work. In the end, you want to measure your results and the impact, not the effort. While the Objective tells you where to go, the Key Results tell you how far you are from your final destination. An initiative tells you what to do to get closer to your destination. Writing 10 magazine articles is an initiative, not a Key Result. It is something you do. Achieving 1000 views on your articles is a Key Result. It is something you don’t do, but can still influence. It shows you if your initiatives delivered the desired outcome. Using S.M.A.R.T. goals might be a good control mechanism for your Key Results.
OKRs are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Your organizational factors are unique and the successful formulation and use of OKRs depend on your context. Perfectly suited, clear, and transparent OKRs will increase your overall company performance. Therefore, working with OKR examples which can be found online or in past cycles, should not be a habit. Neither should be applying the existing quality criteria above to your OKRs blindly. We encourage you to take each drafting session as a training ground and keep striving for higher quality. There is always room for improvement when it comes to creating OKRs.