by Leon Rosenshein

Are Your KRs Really Tasks?

OKRs. Objectives and Key Results. The Objective comes from your vision, and the Key Results define what success looks like on your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). One nice things about Objectives is that they can be decomposed into smaller, more focused objectives as you got down the org hierarchy. That works great at the company, SVP/VP, and director level, and can work for managers of managers.

When the org is using OKRs every level is expected to have their objectives support one of the OKRs at the level above. This helps with prioritization and ensuring the right level of effort/support is put behind each high level OKR. And it provides a path for issues to bubble up so they can be addressed while they’re still small issues, not big problems.

But it often breaks down at the individual team level. The team is trying to increase customer value and decrease developer workload. The problem comes when decomposing the higher level Objectives into team specific Key Results. At a task level the work looks something like “Document service X”, “Implement sharding for the database”, “Enable real-time queuing for requests”, or “Improve error handling”. Those may be critical tasks, and are probably the right things to do, but they’re tasks, not Key Results.

Unfortunately, what often happens is that those tasks end up in the OKR roll-up as Key Results. But they’re not Key Results. They’re not even results at all. They’re just tasks. Remember, Key Results are supposed to be the desired values of the KPIs.

What you need to do is figure out what the right KPIs are for the Objective. KPIs that define how things look from the outside. Then come up with how you expect the completion of those tasks to impact the KPIs. Those are the Key Results. The improvement (outcomes, not outputs) that comes about because of the work done.

That doesn’t mean the team doesn’t need to keep track of the tasks. In fact, it’s critical to understand what the work needed to reach the result is. But it’s even more important to ensure that the result is what’s being tracked, not the work being done.