OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, is a goal-setting methodology that helps organisations set clear goals and keep teams aligned during the quarter.
It focuses on the impact of the work rather than deadlines and deliverables. As such, some may argue that OKRs aren't that useful for project managers but that would be ignoring the clear benefits that OKRs have when it comes down to optimising existing processes.
Project managers can rely on traditional planning to ensure that work is complete in scope and on time. But they can also use OKRs in parallel to improve efficiencies.
OKRs can also be useful to help define what success looks like for long-term projects. It will help stakeholders and individual contributors to share a common understanding of the expected impact when the project is delivered.
We'll see in this guide some tips to help you write good OKRs, as well as some specific examples for developers.
How to write OKRs for project managers
Step 1. Knowing the difference between OKRs vs. Projects
The main challenge for project managers starting with OKRs is to switch their focus away from outputs, and considered the related outcomes instead.
It is critical for them to understand the difference between Objectives, Key Results, and projects:
- Objectives: what do we want to achieve next quarter?
- Key Results: how are we going to measure progress?
- Projects/Initiatives: what are our best bets to get there?
A common mistake is to start listing all your existing initiatives as Key Results. Yes, these projects are important, but your OKRs should not be a different way to represent your roadmap.
Good Objectives should be inspiring and easy to understand by anyone in the company.
Good Key Results should help you measure progress toward your Objective. A simple test is to ask, "would we do things differently if this KR goes off-track?". If the answer is negative, then you need to refine your OKR.
Finally, your projects are the bets that you make to achieve your OKRs. Double down on the things that work, and drop those that aren't producing results.
Step 2. Pick 1-2 focus areas
The next step is to pick the correct focus for the quarter. Here are some examples that apply to Project Management:
- Usability: make sure that features are delivered with great user experience
- Scope: prevent teams from expanding scope beyond the budget
- Security: prioritise security as part of the release workflow
- Timeliness: make sure that projects are finished on time
- Quality: minimize the number of defects that are found in production, or during the development cycle
Once you have your theme in place, you can go further and turn them into inspiring statements for the team. They'll become the starting point of your OKRs.
Step 3. Write your plan
Once you've narrowed your focus, you can start writing your OKRs. You'll see some examples below, and here's a complete guide on how to quickly write great OKRs.
Example of OKRs for Project Managers
OKR to improve project management
Improve project management effectiveness
Increase customer satisfaction from 65% to 80%
Bring project completion rate up by 10%
Reduce project timeline overruns by 20%
Keep budget variance below 25%
OKR to keep a long-running project on track
The ACH Payment project is on track for next quarter
We have achieved our 4 main development milestones
25 transactions have been completed on the internal beta
The team has completed 20 UX testing sessions
OKR to improve project delivery margins
Increase profitability of projects
Reduce operational delivery costs by 8%
Reduce project delivery cycle time by 20%
Increase customer satisfaction ratings by 10%
OKR to accelerate release cycles
Get faster releases through automation
Increase the number of production deployments from 1/week to 4/week
Reduce the mean lead time for changes from 8 days to 72h
Reduce build time from 20mins to 5mins
100% of our services have a Continuous Delivery pipeline
OKR to launch a successful mobile application
Launch a successful mobile app MVP
Get 100 daily active users on mobile by the end of the quarter
Mobile application NPS is above 30
25% of new active users install the mobile app
Achieve 60% week-4 retention in our mobile application for active users
OKR to significantly improve the timeliness of projects
Significantly improve the timeliness of projects
Reduce the number of adjustments by 20%
Achieve a customer satisfaction score of 90% or higher
Increase the overall on-time project delivery rate to 95%
OKR to prepare a successful product launch
Be on track for a successful launch next quarter
Build a mailing list of 1,0000 people
100% of core features have been completed
Ensure that we have a NPS of 40 or above pre-launch
Secure 10 press articles with known publications
Tracking your OKRs
Knowing how to write good OKRs is critical, but without good tracking in place, the OKRs will fade away and focus will be lost.
It's not just us saying that:
- Peter Kappus writes that "check-ins are the most important part of OKRs".
- Felipe Castro cautions people not to let their OKRs turn into New Year's resolutions.
- Christina Wodtke tells us that "cadence is probably the single most important thing".
The easier it is for a team to have weekly discussions around the OKRs, the better they'll execute. Here are a few best practices for tracking OKRs.
1. Do weekly check-ins
Quarterly OKRs should be tracked every week to be effective. Without a continuous reflection on progress, your OKRs won't be much different from having KPIs.
The check-ins process can be automated with a platform like Tability that takes care of reminders, and distribute updates to the teams.
2. Keep track of your confidence
Good progress updates should help everyone understand how far we are from our goal, but also how confident we are in achieving it. You can use a simple red/yellow/green color coding to indicate your confidence.
3. Make trends easy to see
Lastly, it's important to look at trends to avoid false positives. It's not rare for a team to have a hot start and then slow down mid quarter. This will be hard to see unless you can look at progress trends for individual Key Results.
What other metrics can Project Managers use?
Now that you've got good Objectives, it's time to pick some key results and finding good metrics that work for your team can be tricky. Lucky for you, we've laid out all the best success metrics for your teams to use.
Here are a few to get you started:
The time needed to complete a certain task or activity
On-time completion percentage
How many projects or tasks were completed in time.
The difference between estimated budget at the start, and actual costs at the end of a project.
The value of what's left to complete in a project
How satisfied customers are with the quality of the project(s).
Net promoter score
NPS is a metric that represent the likeliness of a customer to recommend your service.
How many complaints/bugs/issues have been filed by customers (internal or external).
Average cost per hour
The average cost per hour for the complete delivery of a project.
Number of change requests
How many times a customer has requested a change on a project.
Stop wasting your OKRs. Focus on the right work and accomplish your goals.