What Are OKRs?

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are used by the most successful companies in the world. In brief, OKRs are a framework that help you define and track objectives and their outcomes.

As the name implies, OKRs have two components: objectives and key results.

Objectives are qualitative, big-picture, directional goals. They communicate where you are going, and they're intended to be inspiring and motivating.

Key results are quantitative, specific, sub-goals. They exist to let you and others know whether you are progressing as expected. Key results should be actionable and measurable.

A Brief History of OKRs

There are three important figures in the history of OKRs: Peter Drucker, Andy Grove, and John Doerr.

Peter Drucker's "Management By Objectives" (MBO) are a precursor to OKRs, where objectives are clearly defined and agreed upon between an executive and their employees.

Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, took Drucker's MBOs further and developed the OKR framework. In his book "High Output Management", Grove explains how organizations should set up a system of OKRs based on two questions:

  1. Where do we want to go?
  2. How do we pace ourselves to see if we get there?

As you can see, these two questions correspond to the two components in OKRs, namely the objective and the key results.

Finally, John Doerr is widely known for having successfully introduced Google to OKRs. In fact, John Doerr learned the OKR framework directly from Andy Grove at an Intel course in 1975.

You might say Peter Drucker was the precursor, Andy Grove the inventor, and John Doerr was the evangelist - the one who popularized OKRs.

The Success of OKRs

If you visit any tech company today in a place like San Francisco, there's a very high chance that they - big or small - use OKRs. One of the reasons might be that John Doerr went on to spread them to startups via the Venture Capital firm Kleiner Perkins.

But the more direct reason is that OKRs are simply extremely effective! If you want to achieve big things and get results, OKRs are probably the best framework out there.

Only For Tech?

But do you have to be a tech company to use OKRs? Not at all. In fact, you don't even need to be a company! Increasingly, freelancers, individual employees, solo makers, and just about anyone are adopting OKRs for their personal goals. The simple reason is that they give you results.

But how do you set OKRs to maximize your chances of success? That's what we'll tackle in the next section: How To Set OKRs.