OKRs: Ideas are easy. Execution is everything.

Posted on August 7, 2019

By Lic. Francisco Mato, CEO and Co-founder of Fizzmod, company dedicated to the development of eCommerce creative solutions among which is JANIS, software specialized in back office operations for eCommerce clients.

As a company grows, the most difficult step to climb is communication. The increase in structures, teams and staff generates distraction and loss of focus, which, if not properly controlled, might have a negative impact on productivity, relations, different areas delivery and, as a result, on organization. 

OKRs are an organizational methodology for companies, teams and people. They make sure that every part of the team concentrates their efforts on the same important issues, helping to create a culture focused on calculating and delivering business value. They seek agility at every level, activating the autonomy of teams and people individually. 

Thus, they turn out to be an excellent way of helping everybody in the company to understand what the important matters are and how to measure them. This is, in the main, a clear way to show strategy, the company’s lodestar, and to align the different teams and people leading their efforts in the same direction.

The main benefits include:

  • They focus on the important: all the efforts directed towards the same global results
  • Disciplined Thinking
  • Effective Communication (greater coordination)
  • They set indicators of progress and achievement

What do OKRs consist of?

The equation is very simple:

I have an (Objective) and I’m going to measure it using (this set of Key Results)

OKRs’ focuses can be very diverse and vary significantly for each company, but they are usually related to growth, performance, revenue and/or engagement, made up by 3 to 5 Objectives by level, with 3-5 Key Results for each stated goal.


Objectives are large aspirational goals and they explain WHAT we should achieve. By definition they should be:

  • Significant and specific
  • Action-oriented
  • Inspirational
  • Long-lasting

When the objectives are well designed and challenging, they are written and shared with all the members of the company, becoming a specific action against vague thinking and execution, creating the right alignment, clarity and satisfaction with what one does.

An effective OKRs system binds together the objectives to a greater team mission and leads us to fight for what seems to be beyond our reach. On the contrary, when there are competing priorities among the objectives, they aren’t clear or they arbitrarily change, the team might face frustration, cynicism and discouragement.  That is the reason why OKRs set up process should be guided, sensible and based on clear and transparent aspirational goals.

Examples of Correct Objectives:

  • Turn Product X into the Europe par excellence operations software 
  • Reach a record annual revenue growth 

As you may see, the objectives are aspirational, limited in time (time bound) but in extended periods (long-lasting), and motivational (forward moving).

Examples of Incorrect objectives:

  • Continue growing in terms of revenue

Key results

KR or Key results are HOW we will reach our goals, or rather how we are going to calculate the accomplishment of the OKR, since under no circumstances the methodology determines the tasks to follow or the strategies to implement in order to achieve those goals.  

The key results must describe the results, not the activities. If KR include words such as “consult,” “help,” “analyze,” “participate,” they are describing activities. Instead, we should describe the impact of those activities: 

  • “Publish the SLA terms before August 1” instead of “Assess the customer service satisfaction”

By definition, Key Results are:

  • Specific (concrete)
  • Definite and limited in time
  • Aggressive but realistic (hard but not impossible)

In addition, they must always aim to the fulfillment of the objectives in which they are framed.

Most KR are measurable and provable. Either it’s accomplished or not, there are no grey areas. At the end of the allotted period we determine its level of execution. 

While the Objectives can be long in time (1 year or more), the Key Results are set quarterly and they indicate the work progress. Once their level of achievement is measured, the objective’s accomplishment can be determined –which couldn’t otherwise be measured because of its own nature. 

It is important to highlight that key results:

  • Mustn’t define a task
  • Must be related to the target compliance 
  • Must define a how, when and where 
  • 3-5 Key Results for each Objective

Some examples of correct KR

  • Get 50 customers with an average ticket of $500 between May-August 
  • Post a minimum of 4 monthly articles on the blog
  • Reduce the customer churn from 15% to 10%
  • Improve the company’s LTV in +50% (starting from LTV = 2 years)
  • Achieve 10,000 New Followers on Instagram

Examples of incorrect KR:

  • Buy computers
  • Launch a new product line
  • Make videos for Youtube
  • Get more users on Instagram

Defining OKRs

The first thing to define, without which will be almost impossible to align efforts, will be the Organization’s OKRs: the first level. The company as a body shall define the main Objectives and Key Results, from which OKRs for the different areas, teams and individuals will be derived.

When it comes to setting OKRs for teams and individuals, it is important to keep in mind that not all Organization’s OKRs must be reflected in those. It is possible that a specific team’s OKR focus on an organizational OKR (at least on one, always), or particularly on one KR.

A good practice when defining OKRs of teams is to gather team leaders and, together with them, establish the priorities for the following quarter. When doing so, the following must be taken into account:

  • The priorities of the team must be linked to at least one OKR of the organization.
  • The OKRs of the teams and individuals must aim to meeting the Organization’s OKRs.

The following questions should be asked:

  • Are the team’s priorities likely to help in the successful achievement of the company’s OKRs?
  • Do they mean progress for the Organization?
  • Are there things missing that others might consider necessary for these teams to address?
  • Are there more than 3 priorities?

Successful OKRs can be given in a top-to-bottom structure as well as in a bottom upwards one, allowing teams and people within the organization to comment on what and where to invest their time and how to lead their efforts. It is advised that at least 60% of the OKRs be created from bottom to top. 

At the end of the process, the teams’ and individuals’ OKRs will work as a mutual agreement between employer/employee and must be transparent for every member of the company. 

In order to avoid discussion during the final stage, the starting point should be recorded. I want to reach the moon, but ¿Where do I depart from? This should also include the way in which it is going to be measured and which is the criteria that will be used to do so. 

What should OKRs focus on?

  • Personal: What they will be working on 
  • Teams: Priorities for the team, not just a set of OKRs
  • Company: Big picture, main focus

On no account are OKRs substitutes of good judgement, leadership or creative working culture.

How to measure results: looking for the Sweet Spot

As we already mentioned, OKRs can be measured percentage-wise (0-100%) or in a scale in which “1” is the comprehensive fulfillment of the key result, and “0” means no improvement.

Each KR is measured in a percentage or value between 0.0 and 1.0 and there is not an exact science to determine its fulfillment. An honest analysis should be done, that the result is not about carrots and sticks and that assessing the score for each KR should only last a few minutes.  

The final value of an Objective’s achievement will be determined by the median of all the KR linked with said objective. Basing on the final results, it will be determined that:

  • More than 0.9: OKRs were too easy or ill-defined
  • Less than 0.4: OKRs too hard
  • We aim at 0.6-0.7 of achievement (sweet spot)

What happens when the score is low? First of all, it is not a failure but an opportunity to learn: the score is not more important than the process.


Each OKR must count with the figure of an Owner, who will be in charge of measuring and recording the progress, experiments and results. In some cases, weekly team meetings are held, in which not only the advance is assessed but also the strategies to address so as to ensure the compliance. 

It is also suggested to hold a mid-term meeting to evaluate the interdependence (dependences with other teams or members of the company that could affect the execution of OKRs of others), limiting factors, etc.

Are OKRs compatible with other methodologies?

We noted before that OKRs are not projects or tasks, nor substitutes of good judgement or reason. Neither are they alternatives for the usual methodologies used in companies (in our case, Agile: Scrum & Kanban), since their work is to define the direction: helping teams and people identify the issues that matter the most to the company, for everyone to be able to clearly distinguish those values when it comes to daily decision making but not to the way of dealing with a particular project.

That’s why it is worth to revise and understand where the OKRs are positioned within the organization, considering that their purpose is not to order the daily activity, but further over that. An example of OKRs position in the company’s organizational chart can be seen in the following graphic: 


As mentioned earlier, OKRs are an effective formula to align the different areas of a company into a defined direction, which must necessarily come from the company’s leaders. Nevertheless, they are a favorable space to promote the autonomy of the different areas, teams or people individually, and therein lays the key potential of the methodology. 

However, it should not be forgotten that neither this methodology nor any other can substitute common sense, since the incorrect application of any type of objective can cause significant to interpersonal relationships, and to the company’s expectations from which it is difficult to go back.

It is always more convenient to start with a conservative strategy and let time, experience and learning help shape the application of the methodology, such as the accuracy and quality of OKRs.

However conservative it might be, taking that first step towards a more transparent and wider vision of the company and its course is the challenge to overcome: breaking the molds that govern the internal communications towards a modern and coherent company in terms of objectives and expectations. And, above all, avoid being dragged or dragging the teams into the inconsistencies of the first experiences: try, measure and learn to continue improving as an inherent philosophy of every organization.