OKRs for Startups


OKRs vs. initiatives: what's the difference?

OKRs vs. initiatives: what's the difference?

Sten Pittet - CEO
STen Pittet
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What's the difference between OKRs and strategic initiatives?

OKRs and initiatives (or projects) go hand-in-hand, and it's often useful to keep initiatives as part of the picture when you're creating your OKRs.

  • Objectives: where do we want to be at the end of the quarter? (direction)
  • Key Results:  how are we going to measure progress? (traction)
  • Projects: what are our best bets to get there? (action)

Your Objectives should stay stable throughout the quarter, but your KRs might change a bit as a result of weekly reviews with your team (ex: you realize that tracking signups is wrong and should instead track active users). On the other hand, you should expect your roadmap to evolve quite often if you have an outcome-driven mindset.

We'll see how you can keep a flexible roadmap in the next section, but you need to treat projects like bets—some will work and you should double down on them, others will fail and it's okay to let them go.

A simple way to improve your OKRs plans when you're starting is to include your potential initiatives as part of the picture. It will help you to avoid listing projects as Objectives or Key Results.

Let's look at an example. Say draft the following plan below:

  • Objective: Integrate with Stripe
  • Key Results: ?
  • Initiatives: ?

It's hard to complete that plan because my objective is pretty much binary. Either we have the Stripe integration or we don't. It looks more like we have a project rather than a proper Objective. So we need to step back and think about why we want to have a Stripe integration (focus on problem, not solutions!). Then we can come up with something that looks more like this:

  • Objective: get paid customers
  • Key Results: revenue growth, number of upgrades
  • Initiatives: integrate with Stripe, buy ads, run Marketing campaigns, add paid features...

Once we shift our focus, we can expand the set options available to get to our outcome. And if the Stripe integration was too hard to do, we can simply switch to charging people manually.

How to use OKRs with projects

OKRs easily pair with Now, Next, Later roadmaps. These kind of roadmaps focus on value rather than deadlines and makes it easier to change priorities during your planning meetings. But, it's crucial to commit to the work in the Now column and only change things that are in the Next or Later backlogs.

Teams that use OKRs with a timeline format will find it harder to innovate as it turns roadmap discussions into Tetris games to fill in the capacity blanks.

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