Objectives and Key Results
Managing teams with Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) has become really popular all over the world – especially since Google’s stellar ascent, attributed partly to the company adopting the OKR process in its early startup days. The ideas behind it go back more than 70 years though: it’s the best way to manage knowledge workers, for whom top-down commands and repetitive routines are inappropriate and ineffective.
The simplicity of the process is what makes it so successful. Essentially it’s a great way to apply helpful disciplines, and introduce, manage and evolve new goals.
The key OKR terms and the corresponding elements in Goalscape are:
Objectives: Big Fuzzy Goals
These are (usually long-term) goals that can be somewhat general and fuzzy. It’s good to have these because they can serve as motivating ‘north stars’: they inspire people and give them direction. The number of such goals depends on the main goal (at the center of the Goalscape goal map) – to maintain focus there should be no more than 10. Objectives are positioned at Level 1 of the goal map.
Key Results: Smaller Concrete Goals
These are much more specific goals that can be qualified and quantified accurately. They are typically positioned at Level 2 of the goalscape goal map; they do not however have to be direct subgoals of the somewhat fuzzy Objectives. If you have subgoals of increasing specificity (which may not qualify as Key Results), you can slot them into your goalscape in between the Objectives and Key Results. So your Key Results could end up on level 3 or 4 (or even lower). Goalscape is much more flexible here compared to other OKR software tools.
Differentiate between Committed and Aspirational Goals
There is a big difference between committed and aspirational goals. Committed Goals are goals that must be achieved just to keep a project (or the whole business) going. Aspirational goals, on the other hand, are goals that may create new opportunities, yet if they are not achieved nothing really bad happens. It’s a very useful distinction to make when you prioritize your goals.
In Goalscape you can also apply the Tags ‘Committed’ or ‘Aspirational’, then use the Focus filter to see the different sets of goals.
This is a crucial element of the OKR process. You can use any time period; the most popular though is to break down the year into 4 quarters. We currently favor quarterly plans, because a time horizon of a few weeks is more gratifying and allows for more flexibility in adapting the plan. In more settled businesses, annual plans may be more fitting. In Goalscape you can use Due Dates to define shorter timeboxes. It is essential to review and update your progress frequently (at least once a week) – and always remember to celebrate the wins with your team.
Confidence (to achieve a key result/goal)
Asking people how confident they are about achieving a goal, in a given Timebox, is a very efficient way for a team to understand what’s going on. By contrast, when we ask someone “how are things going?”, we are likely to be inundated with detailed descriptions of everything that person is doing. And a million words may not be enough to reflect the current reality faithfully! These details only really matter though if things go sour (and you can do something about it). So in goal setting sessions and periodic reviews, we ask for a confidence estimate, using numbers between 0 and 10 (10 being ‘absolutely certain’ and 0 being ‘it’s impossible’. This keeps our interactions short and to the point.
In initial Quarterly planning, committed goals should be on the high end of the confidence scale, while aspirational goals can be fairly low. A mid-range confidence can be considered a good start for something ambitious. The confidence should be updated every week. In the third month of the quarter, mid range values should be avoided: at this point goals should be either in the green zone (likely to be achieved) or the red zone (unlikely). Then for any goal in the red zone you can decide whether to throw more resources at it, or park or delete that goal and spend the effort elsewhere.
The Confidence scale looks like this:
Low 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 High
You can also use this scale to see if a trend becomes apparent in the weekly updates. We simply note down the trend in the top of the Notes field (at least on the committed goals) like this:
Confidence: 5 > 6 > 7 > 7 > 9
In this example, the trend over the first 5 weeks of the quarter is positive and all is looking good. In the following example, the goal would require some extra attention (or be deferred or abandoned).
Confidence: 5 > 6 > 4 > 2
Never before has humanity been as easily distracted as today. We can lament that, or we can take it as an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. Deciding what to do right now is becoming one of the key success skills of our time. Our team always tries to invest enough time to carefully decide what to do NOW and what to do NEXT, then Tag their goals accordingly. Once NOW goals are achieved, the priorities of the NEXT goals are re-evaluated, and one or more of them (maximum 3) given the NOW Tag.
The Goalscape Focus filter (top left of the screen) makes it really easy to find the NOW and NEXT goals (including selecting by person Responsible) and to view and export a corresponding Goal List (goals that match your selections).
The basic setup of OKRs in Goalscape is really simple:
- Define Objectives and Key Results in Goalscape. Optionally tag goals as “Committed” (must achieve) or “Aspirational (want to achieve).
- Assign who owns which goal (Responsibles)
- Set your relative Importances (priorities of the goals) for the quarter.
- Tag Goals (Key Results and Tasks) as “NOW” or “NEXT” and Focus on them on a daily or weekly basis using the Focus panel (top left)
- Update Progress and Confidence weekly
- Celebrate successes, run retrospectives and plan for the next quarter (or other period).
Here is an example of what an OKR quarterly plan looks like in Goalscape:
A Focus view with the list displayed (bottom left of screen) looks like this: