OKRs for Startups


OKR check-ins: the pragmatic guide

OKR check-ins: the pragmatic guide

Sten Pittet - CEO
STen Pittet
Browse Topics

If your team is serious about achieving its goals, then you're probably already familiar with the Objectives and Key Results framework (OKRs). This goal-setting framework has quickly become one of the most popular methodologies for companies worldwide.

However, simply setting OKRs is not enough to guarantee success. Regular check-ins are crucial for tracking progress, identifying obstacles, and making course corrections. And that's exactly what this guide is all about — providing you with the tools and knowledge you need to conduct effective OKRs check-ins.

We'll cover everything from best practices and common pitfalls to strategies for keeping your team motivated and on track.

Weekly OKR check-ins are where the magic happens

75% of the posts about OKRs tend to focus on goal-setting. You'll read about how to write great Objectives, how to set measurable Key Results, or how to run effective workshops with your team. But setting OKRs is just the first step, and the real magic happens when you consistently review and track progress through regular check-ins.

You'll find below the top benefits of OKR check-ins.

1. Improved accountability

Weekly check-ins help keep team members accountable for their progress and ensure that they are taking the necessary steps to achieve their goals.

2. Increased visibility

By reviewing progress on a regular basis, team leaders and managers can quickly identify potential issues and take corrective action before they become major problems.

3. Enhanced communication

Check-ins provide an opportunity for team members to share updates and collaborate on issues, improving overall communication and teamwork.

4. Greater alignment

Regular check-ins help ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals and that there is alignment across teams and departments.

5. Improved performance

By keeping a close eye on progress and making adjustments as needed, check-ins can help optimize performance and increase the chances of achieving objectives.

Best practices and tips to track OKRs effectively

Use a simple scoring grade

Many teams have read that Google aims for a 70% completion to challenge their teams. It sounds great in theory, but I bet that all the other KPIs, bonuses, metrics in your orgs are measured by 100% = great.

We've written a quick post explaining in details why you shouldn't score OKRs like Google.

How to write good OKR check-ins

There are 5 weekly check-in questions to answer in your progress updates:

  • Progress: where are we today?
  • Expectation: is this where we're supposed to be?
  • Trends: are we getting better or worse?
  • Root cause: what do we think happened?
  • Plan: should we do things differently?

Make sure that you're covering all these questions when you're writing your OKR check-ins. Many answers should be covered by your tracking dashboard (ex: Key Result progress, confidence with red/yellow/green status...) but you'll absolutely need to write meaningful updates to have effective OKRs.

The more context you give to your team, the easier it is for them to help you.

Examples of good and bad OKR check-ins

Consider the picture below. We will look at 2 different possible check-ins for the date of February 6.

Bad OKR check-in

We're currently at 12.3% week-4 retention. It looks like we're on track!"

While the check-in is positive, it's hardly informative. We can all see the graph and come to the same conclusion. More importantly, we can see that progress was previously plateauing, so it's all the more important to add more details to the progress update.

What's missing here:

  • Insights about the future – are we confident we'll keep on growing?
  • Context about how we improved things – did we break the plateau in a sustainable way?

No need to write a novel for each check-in (people won't read it if it's too long). But, you can quickly answer these questions with a couple of sentences.

Let's have a look below.

Good OKR check-in

We're currently at 12.3% week-4 retention. Looking at the mature week 4 data (cohort starting December 25th -- amplitude calls out two additional weeks in order for data to be complete), we're at 20% retention. So if we can maintain our retention rate from then, we'll be able to hit this goal. I'm continuing to tweak subject lines and content in the onboarding flow, especially now with the new "getting the most out of a trial" section in the Guides."

This progress update is great:

  • It talks about the future (December 25th cohort is showing signs of improvements compared to the base line).
  • It talks about what has been done (tweaking subject and content of the onboarding flow)
  • It's less than 150 words - making it easy to digest.

Good OKR check-ins shouldn't be painful to write, but they require spending a bit of time on analysis (which is why you shouldn't own too many goals). The more you can communicate your learnings and your view of the future, the easier it'll be to achieve your goals.

Look at trends rather than current state

There's another reason why this weekly ritual matters. Isolated data points can give you a false sense of security. In the chart below, it looks like we're doing pretty good: we're halfway through the quarter and above the projected growth line.

Now, the historical progress might be a bit different. Once you plot all the data points, the chart tells a different story.

We're above the projected line, but it clearly looks like we're in trouble.

Reduce friction from the OKR check-in process

Check-ins need to be super easy to do if you want to get value from the framework. Any clicks, formulas, spreadsheet manipulations that get in the way will make your team resent the OKRs process. As a result they'll stop sharing progress, and soon the Objectives and Key Results will be forgotten.

You should look for tools that will keep updates simple with built-in check-ins capabilities. A platform like Tability can take care of the reminders, and will include a progress chart allowing you to see trends out of the box (and when you do your check-ins).

Creating a check-in in Tability

Monthly check-ins (for quarterly OKRs) are risky

Before you start tracking your OKRs, you'll need to consider the check-ins frequency. As a rule of thumb:

  • Quarterly OKRs should be tracked weekly.
  • Yearly OKRs should be tracked monthly.

This approach will allow you to have enough data points to identify trends in your Key Results.

Don't track your quarterly OKRs on a monthly basis. This will often give you a false sense of security in your first month, only to start panicking on month #2 if you're not on track. Then it'll be already too late to adjust your strategy before the end of the quarter.

On the other hand, weekly check-ins will help you anticipate issues much earlier. You'll quickly see trends and will be able to take action rapidly to correct the course.

Picking the right check-in frequency is really about making your teams agile. You won't need to track annual goals every week (that'll be too verbose), but you do need to give yourself the opportunity to realise when things aren't going your way.

A weekly ritual to track and review OKRs

For OKRs to be effective, we recommend adopting a simple ritual that will create a natural accountability towards outcomes in the team.

Every Monday:

  • Start the week by looking at progress on Key Results.
  • Then see if you need to adjust your roadmap.

Every Friday:

  • Do demos with the team to celebrate the good work that has been done.

This ritual will help everyone stay connected to the top priorities by starting every week with a brief reminder of what's important. It's crucial to begin with OKRs progress first to set the context as roadmap discussions can often turn into technical debates. Additionally, starting by looking at progress on outcomes will help bring the focus on the right initiatives when it's time to review the priorities in the backlog.

Discuss outcomes first, then outputs.

How to run your weekly OKR meeting

Each team that has an OKRs plan should have their own weekly ritual. Some people might have several such meetings (ex: a leadership OKRs review, and a product team review) but that's ok. What's more important is to create a culture where conversations are focused on the goals rather than the tasks in flight.

Now, it's also important to make sure that these meetings flow rapidly. Try to limit the number of participants to 10, and the duration to 1h on Mondays (Friday demos are not always applicable).

Here's the process to follow with the OKR review meeting:

  • Not more than 10 participants
  • Progress on OKRs should have been published async prior to the meeting.
  • Start by talking about the OKRs, then discuss changes to the roadmap (outcomes first, outputs second).
  • Don't spend too much time on the items on-track. Celebrate the wins, but save your discussion time for the items that are at-risk or off-track.

What to do when a KR is at-risk:

  • Don't panic on the first at-risk/yellow update. It might be an outlier.
  • If at-risk is confirmed, identify the root cause (quite often it can be that the goal was too aggressive).
  • Discuss possible action items (but don't commit yet as other OKRs might take priority).

What to do when a KR is off-track:

  • You need to have a clear assessment of the risk, and an honest discussion about your ability to achieve said goal.
  • There might be times when it's best to stop working on an OKR if it's not realistic – you can redirect efforts on achieving other outcomes.
  • List action items, and have a clear follow up on what has been done in the next meeting.

The first OKR meeting might take a bit of time as people are still getting familiar with the OKRs, but you'll see on week 3 or 4 that this meeting can be run quite quickly as everyone will have the same priorities in mind.

What's next?

Read our rules to implement OKRs successfully, and check our guide on scoring OKRs.

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