OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are far from easy to set and implement for startups. However, it is vital to use them effectively before the product-market fit. Even giants such as Amazon, SAP, Intel, Spotify, Netflix, Facebook, and many others already use OKRs to achieve their goals.
While OKRs were initially designed in scaling companies, they are equally crucial for early-stage enterprises. Diwakar Kaushik, entrepreneur & ex-head of product Go-Pay, Go-Jek, explains everything you need to know about the importance of OKRs, goal-setting, and the framework required to build a rock-solid OKR plan. He brings over a decade of experience across B2C and B2B industries, spanning wide-ranging functions, including entrepreneurship, technology, product management, and e-commerce.
What Are OKRs? How Can They Be Useful For New-Age Tech Companies?
Let’s break down the different components of OKRs, starting with the ‘Objectives’ part. Quite simply, an objective is an inspirational statement that is significant, concrete, action-oriented, and inspirational.
‘Key Results,’ on the other hand, is a measure that defines whether progress has been made to the objective using quality metrics. It helps to make the objectives more understandable and tangible. Effective KRs are specific, time-bound, measurable, steadily forward-looking yet realistic, and verifiable.
The end goal of writing the OKRs is always to understand what’s important (and what’s not). What can an OKR truly do if set in motion?
An Example Of OKR In Action
Let’s take a look at an example of three Objectives and Key Results for improving customer retention:
There are three key objectives (O) and two-three corresponding key results (KR) for each objective. For your KRs to match with your Os, they need to be well-conceived and in perfect alignment with their correspondent objectives.
Why Do Companies Use OKRs?
Typically, companies use OKRs to:
- Focus on the right problems and commit to priorities: An effective OKR drives necessary decision-making and works as a precision communication tool for functions, teams, and individuals.
- Align and connect better for teamwork: This brings transparency to everyone’s goals and helps individuals link their objectives to the company’s game plan. It also helps to identify the cross-dependencies, improve team coordination, and bring alignment via meaningful work and a culture of innovation.
- Track for accountability:OKRs are primarily data-driven. It fosters a culture of regular check-ins, objective grading, and continuous reassessment, bringing forth no-judgment accountability.
- Stretch for amazing results: OKRs push teams to excel at their work. A competent OKR system tests their limits and gives them the freedom to fail so that they can ultimately harness enough confidence to succeed.
How Do You Set OKRs?
There are multiple ways to set OKRs, and the most important element to consider is autonomy. There’s no perfect way of setting it up. That said, if you’re starting with a young team that does not have a good understanding of the product, the user, or the business, it makes sense to build a top-down OKR:
On the other hand, as the organization matures, you should focus on building the bottom-up OKRs. Such an OKR demands more expertise from the entire team:
If you want to see what an ideal OKR scorecard looks like, here’s a snapshot from Google’s Rework, a place where the brand provides plenty of information on building products and technology:
Ideally, you should have three to five objectives, and you should measure it by three key results every week/quarter.
The Most Critical Question To Ask: "How To Align OKRs With Execution?"
To effectively align your OKRs with implementation, follow these six steps:
Step 1: Define functional initiatives for each Key Result as clearly as possible.
Step 2: Define the owner who will be accountable and responsible for each initiative.
Step 3: Engage in resource trade-offs during your quarterly setting and train your teams to ask the right questions.
Step 4: Assess the direction of the goal plans weekly.
Step 5: Drive weekly status emails to get a pulse of the progress/performance.
Step 6: Change some OKRs mid-quarter (or as needed).
Common Mistakes To Avoid While Setting OKRs
Next, it makes sense to understand the common mistakes to avoid while setting up the OKRs. Here’s a quick checklist for your reference:
- Do not have too many OKRs, leading to a lack of connection between O and KRs.
- Avoid having insufficient Key Results for Objectives.
- Outcome vs. Output: Prevent having your product/tech team drive too many launch OKRs.
- Make sure to balance between all Business As Usual objects or no Business As Usual objectives.
- Do not prioritize low-value objectives, which can lead to objective-setting myopia.
- Do not give up on the OKRs. Real progress takes time.
Bonus material: If you want to read up on OKRs, go for the book “Measure What Matters,” or you can browse through the website ‘whatmatters.com.’
Final Word by Diwakar Kaushik
For very early-stage startups, you don’t need OKRs because you don’t have alignment problems or goal-setting problems initially. Once you have launched the initial product and understood the kind of trade-off that you have to make on resources, people, bandwidth, and money, you can set up the OKRs. Ultimately, remember that your team-level or company level-OKRs will depend on the size of your team.
About the author
Diwakar Kaushik comes with over a decade of experience across B2C / B2B industries & functions, including Entrepreneurship, Technology, Product Management, E-commerce, E-grocery, Hyperlocal, Marketplaces, Logistics, Retail and Social Enterprises. He is passionate about working towards creating products for scale and impact, believes in solving problems by first principles and leading teams by theory Y. He is the ex, Head of Product for Go-Pay at Gojek and PepperTap. He has also worked with Snapdeal, Sapient and Lodha Group in his previous stint. He is an alumnus of XLRI and is currently busy building his enterprise. Connect with Diwakar here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/diwakarkaushik/