I just briefly touched on OKRs in another post earlier this summer, hardly doing this key management tool the attention it deserves. The Forbes article by Christian Owens OKRs Let Larry And Sergey Build Google. Maybe The Rest Of Us Software Founders Should Use Them highlighted the importance of OKRs for startups and prompted this post.
OKRs were developed by Andy Grove, a founder and CEO of Intel, and documented in his book High Output Management. Venture capitalist John Doerr learned about OKRs when at Intel and brought the tool to Kleiner Perkins and introduced the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, to them to bring a management framework to Google.
OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. An objective is clearly defined goal and one or more key results are the measures to track progress towards achieving that goal. Key results are measured quantitatively, on a percentage scale or other numeric basis. If Key Results are defined correctly there can be no arguing over whether or not the Objective has been achieved or not. The beauty of OKRs is their simplicity: I will achieve X as measured by Y. And OKRs can be set at the personal, team, department, and company levels. They can be shared across the organization to align and focus efforts of everyone.
John Doerr explained how OKRs came to be instantiated at Google:
When Doerr put this [goals need metrics] to Page and Brin, the latter’s response was, “we don’t have any other way to manage this company, so we’ll give it a go”. I took that as a kind of endorsement. But every quarter since then, every Googler has written down her objectives and her key results. They’ve graded them, and they’ve published them for everyone to see. And these are not used for bonuses or for promotions. They’re set aside. They’re used for a higher purpose, and that’s to get collective commitment to truly stretch goals.
As any reader of this blog, or any fellow mentor at MIT VMS knows, I’m a strong proponent of focus for startups. I’m also a strong proponent of accountability. Combining Apple’s DRIs (Directly Responsible Individual with Intel’s OKRs should result in a highly focused, aligned, and accountable venture!
As Christian Owens concludes:
It is specificity and focus which enables all of us to stretch further than we initially think we can. Carefully choose your objective and stick with it. Rather than scatter-gunning and seeing what sticks, make sure that every single employee sticks to the following: what are you trying to achieve? How will you know if you’re getting there?