Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

OKRs are a framework to help you organize your professional development goals. Used correctly, they can help you identify, outline, and take concrete steps toward achieving your role-related goals. This guide provides all the information you need to understand what OKRs are, why they matter, and how to write your own.

Leadership

No one person oversees the creation of OKRs, and each 18F team member is responsible for tracking their own progress toward achieving their OKRs.

If you have questions about how to translate your goals into concrete, measurable steps, or what types of professional-development resources we have access to, contact your team lead.

What are OKRs?

OKRs are a framework to help you set professional goals and measure your progress toward achieving them.

Some people like to think of OKRs like hypotheses:

I believe that doing X (action) will result in Y (outcome), and I’ll know I’m on the right track when I see Z (metric).

One of the benefits of the OKR framework — that is, defining objectives, actions, and metrics — is its broad applicability. Because it’s so general, it’s equally helpful to individuals, groups, and even whole organizations.

Why we have OKRs

Now that you know what OKRs are, you might be wondering why we have them. In the early days of our organizational history, 18F had lots of working groups, projects, and tiger teams that were doing great work, but that had no consistent way to communicate their progress. They also didn’t have a reliable way to articulate their future goals — the outcomes they ultimately wanted to achieve.

In response to the desire for a standardized way of communicating progress, 18F adopted Google’s OKR process, which Mike Bland introduced when he joined the team.

Our OKRs draw on Google’s template and incorporate other elements of lean UX.

When to create and use OKRs

At 18F/OCSIT, folks are expected to create personal OKRs on a quarterly basis. This doesn’t mean you need to create entirely new OKRs each quarter — it’s OK to modify or reuse existing OKRs if you’re still working toward achieving a particular goal.

At the beginning of each fiscal quarter, you’ll get an email reminder to write (or revise) your OKRs. Though writing OKRs isn’t currently mandatory — we’re all following the honor system — it’s very strongly encouraged. In the future, team leads may enforce the writing and revision of OKRs, but for the time being, no one needs to review and approve your OKRs. As long as you’re comfortable with them, you’re all set.

Another time you should create OKRs is when you’re starting a new working group, guild, tiger team, or other internal group. Because OKRs help you define what you’d like to achieve and provide a means for you to easily assess your progress, they’re especially helpful for fledgling teams and grouplets.

How to write OKRs

To make the OKR-writing process as easy as possible, the team created a fill-in-the-blanks template for you to use. To get started, copy the template into your Drive and fill it in at your leisure. If you’re writing OKRs for the first time and would like to see some examples, reach out to folks on your team or to your team lead — they’ll be happy to share their OKR documents with you.

A good way to approach the writing process is to break each goal into smaller, more descriptive steps. First, think about your long-term goal; this is your Objective. Next, identify three or four concrete, measurable steps you can take toward achieving that goal; these are your Key Results.

Please bear in mind that Key Results should be measurable. Not all Key Results must be able to be described quantitatively, but they should enable you to chart your progress and identify areas that could use improvement.

Track your progress

Everyone uses OKRs differently, which is great — they are, after all, an individualized tool. That said, 18F team members recommend these strategies for tracking your progress toward achieving your OKRs:

Use sticky notes to prioritize

Determine which OKR you most want to achieve, and leave notes around your workspace reminding yourself to work toward it. Or, focus on a different OKR each week and leave yourself notes accordingly.

Send status reports

Set a reminder (for the same day each week) to send yourself an OKR status report. Having to record your progress — or acknowledge a lack thereof — can be a great tool to keep you on track. Some folks recommend keeping all reports in the same email thread, which provides a nice high-level view of your progress to date.

Find an accountability buddy

Ask a coworker or supervisor to check in with you each week about your progress toward your OKRs. Having to remain accountable to another person can be remarkably motivating.

Build OKRs into meeting agendas: Use group OKRs as the basis for meeting agendas. This will ensure that your group keeps its goals and progress top of mind.

Resources

If you’d like to read more about OKRs, these are some articles and books our team has found helpful: