How To Set OKRs

One of the reasons OKRs are so widely used is that they are relatively straightforward to get started with. In this section, we'll get you started on how to set OKRs.

When To Set OKRs?

First, how often should you set OKRs? We recommend setting OKRs at the start of every quarter. That means starting:

  1. January 1st (first quarter)
  2. April 1st (second quarter)
  3. July 1st (third quarter)
  4. October 1st (fourth quarter)

The quarterly cycle is very powerful, because a quarter (3 months) has two very nice properties.

Firstly, a quarter is long enough to accomplish meaningful things. Just think about what you can accomplish in 3 months. For example, you could:

  • Build and launch a product
  • Learn a new language
  • Get a new team up and running
  • Train to get ready for a marathon

Second, a quarter short enough that you can be specific in what exactly you want to accomplish. Breaking those 3 months down, and you get around 13 weeks. It's not too hard to work out what you can do with those 13 weeks, and what outcomes you could aim for. For example:

  • 20 user interviews run for your new product
  • 30 days practicing speaking a foreign language
  • 15 interviews run with candidates
  • 30 km run every week

Ask Yourself Two Questions

Now let's move on to the actual content of your OKRs. Following Andy Grove (the inventor of OKRs), you should ask yourself two things.

Question 1 is where do I want to go?

This question is the foundation for your objectives. Answering this comes quite naturally to most people, since they know roughly what they want to focus on - at least in the near term. So for now just uncritically write down what comes to mind. Remember you can use our OKRs app to do this.

Examples of objectives might be similar to those mentioned above:

  • Publish an awesome first mobile app
  • Become proficient at speaking Spanish
  • Successfully launch the data science team
  • Get fit and ready for a marathon

It's normally recommended to limit yourself to 5 objectives, but if you've never done this before, we recommend not going beyond 3 - or maybe 4.

Keep in mind that you want objectives to be motivating and inspiring, so don't hesitate to use words like "awesome", "best", "successfully", "world-class", etc.

Question 2, that you will ask for each objective, is how do I pace myself to see if I get there?

This is the basis for your key results.

Setting good key results might require a bit more practice for some people. By reading this, you'll increase the chance of success by having measurable and actionable key results.

A good acronym to keep in mind for your key results is SMART:

  • Specific: Well defined, clear, and unambiguous
  • Measurable: With specific criteria that measure your progress towards the accomplishment of the goal
  • Achievable: Attainable and not impossible to achieve
  • Realistic: Within reach, realistic, and relevant to your life purpose
  • Timely: With a clearly defined timeline, including a starting date and a target date. The purpose is to create urgency.

Again we recommend having at most 5 key results per objective - ideally less. A good start might be 3 objectives with 3 key results each, resulting in a total of 9 key results.

Let's pick one of the objectives above and see what key results we might associate with it.

Objective: Publish an awesome first mobile app

  1. 20 user interviews completed
  2. 50 days shipping code
  3. 100% feature completion

The idea here is that if we hit those 3 key results, we will have accomplished the overall objective. Note that every one of those key results is actionable - even on a weekly basis.

But how exactly do you pace yourself when it comes to your key results? In the next section we'll learn How To Track OKRs.