How to explain OKRs ( Objectives and Key Results) in plain English

OKRs, Objectives and Key Results, help IT and business groups measure individuals and teams based on outcomes rather than output. Here's how to explain OKRs, their benefits, and common examples.
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OKRs explained

5 OKR examples for IT

Let’s look at some examples of OKRs relevant to IT.

1. Objective: Improve customer experience

Key results:

  1. Get feedback from 15 customers per month.

  2. Increase Net Promoter Score (NPS) from 8.1 to 9.2.

  3. Increase customer retention from 83 percent to 97 percent.

This example from Kovalova gives a good picture of the need to translate a lofty objective into specific, quantitative results.

2. Objective: Transform the way internal customers engage with IT

Key results:

  1. Users log at least 50 percent of their tickets via the self-service portal in lieu of calling the Service Desk.

  2. Meet with 100 percent of our key customers face-to-face during this quarter.

Here’s another customer experience-oriented OKR, this one from Flora, designed specifically for internal users. Again, note that the results are essentially “yes or no” in nature. The 50 percent goal suggests some improvement to the portal experience or incentive for using it, but doesn’t prescribe the “what.”

3. Objective: Create a frictionless shift browsing experience for clinicians.

Key result: This was an actual quarterly OKR at connectRN, which matches nurses and other clinicians with per diem work. Rozensher says the key results was a specific percentage improvement in the conversion rate of clinicians, calculated by the number of professionals who viewed the daily “shift list” (meaning available jobs) and then proceeded to apply to one or more shifts on that given day.

4. Objective: Accelerate release timeline

Key results:

  1. Reduce average story cycle time from 5.3 days to 3.0 days

  2. Increase completed story velocity from .2 per day to 1.8 per day

This example from Knisley illustrates how a goal many software teams share – increasing the speed and frequency of delivery – can be distilled into results that make sense in a particular organization. In this case, the teams are likely using agile principles and practices such as user stories.

That same overarching goal might be measured differently on another team. Stoll shares these example key results for what is essentially the same objective, i.e. increasing the speed of releases. In this case, the team is working to improve code quality earlier in the development pipeline.

  1. Reduce reported bugs by 60 percent one week before the release.

  2. QA testing length is increased by 2.5 weeks.

  3. Reduce reported issues in the development process by 30 percent.

5. Objective: Increase application quality

Key results:

  1. Zero critical bugs on the UAT stage.

  2. Unit test coverage increased from 52 percent to 65 percent.

  3. No more than three user-reported bugs in each release.

  4. Integration tests are run daily.

  5. Server uptime is 99 percent.

As with the previous example, IT OKRs in general can sometimes quite literally insist on converting qualitative goals into quantitative measurements. This example, courtesy of Kovalova, is characteristic of a good OKR by most definitions: a generally positive but very vague goal – “improve quality” – is now associated with specific targets that will tell you whether that goal was achieved.

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Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his InformationWeek.com story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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