Getting started with OKRs

As OKRs started to gain popularity, we noticed that more and more people want to try and implement them at the companies they work. However, there’s a problem: it’s difficult to know how to get started if you have never used OKRs before. We created this guide for people who are new to OKRs to provide a good starting point for implementing the OKR process at their companies.

Start by communicating

First and foremost, you should communicate about OKRs to your company and leadership. Let people know why they are important and how they will help your company succeed. You can do so by conducting workshops or meetings to educate your employees. Any new initiative requires time and effort to be implemented. When done correctly, OKRs should span the entire company, and everyone should understand why they are essential for the success of the business, or their personal growth.

Pick a delivery cycle

OKRs are set during a defined time frame (or a delivery cycle). Usually, it’s quarterly. If you come from a product background, then it’s almost an equivalent to a product sprint but spanning a much longer time frame. Delivery cycle is where you want to put all OKRs that are important. These OKRs are the goals you want to hit during the specified time frame. They will also serve as a guideline for deciding what to work on and not waste precious time.

Set OKRs

Once you picked the timeframe for the OKRs, the next thing you want to do is set them.

Start with Company OKRs. These objectives are the first ones that should be written down. It’s important to start with the goals that are the most important to the business. The CEO or the leadership typically set these goals. Company objectives will be later used by the rest of the company to create their OKRs in alignment to the top priorities.

Team OKRs are usually written in two steps. For the first step, the CEO, or the leadership conducts a meeting with managers to write a draft of their team objectives. Next, the manager performs a private meeting with his team members to discuss and review draft objectives. Doing it this way ensures that everyone is involved and know what to do. Team OKRs must define team priorities, not just individual goals.

Individual OKRs are set last. An excellent way to do this is to discuss with your manager what you would like to focus on. Personal OKRs could align to team Objectives, or they could be completely independent. It depends on what you’re trying to gain from personal OKRs. Some companies use them as a point of discussion when talking about personal growth. They are a great candidate to start the conversation in your 1-1 meetings with your manager.

Other companies chose not to implement personal OKRs. In most cases, it’s dependent on the size and stage of the company. It’s up to you to figure out if you want OKRs to be implemented at all levels of the company or not.

OKRs are set, now what?

OKRs tell you where efforts must be focused throughout all levels of the company to reach the company’s goals. You can use this information to prioritize work. An objective tells you the goal, and Key Results tell you how to measure the success of the goal. You can think of work as levers you can move that can have a positive or a negative impact on Key Results. Pick work that matters and can push Key Results forward.

Next, it’s important to do periodic OKR check-ins. Providing status updates and updating metrics is very useful in making future projections and making sure you’re on track. When goals are not moving forward, you can change your strategy before it’s too late.

Example OKR process

Below is a sample OKR process that you can use as a template to implement OKRs at your company. The below example assumes a product-focused company and quarter-long delivery cycles. You can follow the same process and expand it across several departments.

When What Notes
6 weeks before new quarter Project prioritization for the next quarter
5 weeks before Leadership and Product meeting
4 weeks before Leadership draft company OKRs Product input could be taken into account but not necessary. It depends on how much of a top-down approach you'd like to take.
4 weeks before Leadership shares OKR drafts with Product The goal is to provide direction for setting departmental OKRs.
4 weeks before Teams have a retrospective on previous quarter OKRs. This is the time to look back and figure out what worked in the past and what didn't so you don't make same mistakes again.
3 weeks before Draft team OKRs Use initial Company draft OKRs to set team goals.
3 weeks before Share drafts with leadership The goal is to get an approval from leadership before finalizing OKRs.
2 weeks before Finalize team and departmental OKRs
1 week before Setup OKR management software (1 week out) Try Simple OKR. We offer 7-day free trial!
Day 1 of the new quarter Share company and team OKRs with entire company
Every week after Assigned leads update OKR status
Every 4 weeks after Perform OKR check-in meeting at each company level. Identify problems and make sure you're moving toward your goals.

Example OKRs

Below you can find sample OKRs to get you an idea of how to write them. Remember, Objectives are stretch goals, whereas Key Results are quantifiable measurements of success.

Objectives
  • Double recurring revenue
  • Deliver superior engineering
  • Increase marketing effectiveness
  • Implement OKR strategy across company
  • Reduce operating expenses

Key Results
  • Drive 5000 subscriptions from Twitter
  • Hire 20 software engineers
  • Get cost per lead under $5
  • Publish 8 blog articles a month
  • At least 80% of customers are paying annually

Recommended reading

By no means we are OKR experts. In most cases, we're learning from and growing together with our customers. When someone asks for additional learning material on OKRs we always recommend the following 3 books.


If you're completely new to OKRs, we recommend you read Radical Focus first. It's a quick read and will cover lots of ground in a very easy to consume form. If you're looking for more details and how OKRs were implemented at larger companies, you should read the other two books.