Common Questions About Writing OKRs, Answered

Cross-functional or discipline-specific? B2B? OKRs for everything?

Hey folks, 

How many OKRs should we have? Should everything get an OKR? At what level should we write our OKRs? Where do the KR numbers come from? Does every team need its own OKRs? If I make internally facing products, why do I need OKRs?

These are the kinds of questions we get over and over again working with teams on implementing OKRs. And of course we have longer answers and explanations, but sometimes it’s helpful to be brief and to-the-point. In today’s newsletter, I share a few brief and to-the-point answers (that you can also find in Josh Seiden’s and my brand-new book, Who Does What by How Much? now in print and e-book on Amazon) to three common questions.

- Jeff

P.S. If you’ve already purchased and read the book, we’d be so grateful if you’d head on over to Amazon and leave a review. Reviews help us spread the word and get the book out to more people and teams that it could help. Thank you!

Article: Common Questions About Writing OKRs, Answered

Just about everyone who writes OKRs wrestles with a common set of questions and issues. This is true whether you’re doing it for the first time or whether you’ve got a lot of experience. These questions generally fall into three categories: 

  1. General questions about OKRs

  2. Questions about teams

  3. Questions about customers

In our new book, Who Does What by How Much? A Practical Guide to Customer-Centric OKRs, Josh and I devote an entire chapter to answering 12 of the most frequently asked questions that come up in our work with teams and organizations. Here, I’m going to share our answers to three of them, one from each category, starting with one of the general questions about OKRs.

Q: Should everything get an OKR?

A: Make a distinction between important business-as-usual work and OKRs.

If OKRs focus you on one important thing, then what should you do with the other day-to-day things that you’re responsible for? After all, you need to keep the business up and running, right?

Most organizations distinguish between OKRs and Business as Usual (BAU) metrics. BAU metrics cover operational activities, like the reliability and stability of the company website, the operations of the company’s campus, or the performance of the call center. The idea of BAU is broad enough to cover any important day-to-day responsibility that falls outside of your focus area.

In her book Radical Focus, OKR expert Christina Wodtke calls these kinds of metrics “heartbeat metrics.” She recommends that you should be paying attention to these metrics in an ongoing way, and that they should be a part of every check-in meeting, but that they remain separate from the metrics you’ve selected for your key results.

Next up: a question about teams and OKRs…

Q: Should OKRs be cross-functional, or should each discipline have its own?

A: OKRs should not be discipline-centric. They should be cross-functional.

The default approach for all OKRs is that they should be set for an entire cross-functional team responsible for the delivery of some product or service into the market. That works when you’re organized this way, but sometimes, organizations aren’t set up well for cross-functional collaboration. 

You’ve also got teams that are “horizontal” or “services” teams, organized around specific disciplines and designed to work with other teams to provide a specific function or skill. These could be designers, lawyers, marketers, or compliance specialists, to name a few. So, though cross-functional, market-facing teams can create straightforward OKRs related to what they’re building, discipline-oriented teams can struggle to adopt OKRs. In these cases discipline-oriented teams’ OKRs should focus on improving the discipline and the delivery of their service (i.e., their scope of influence). 

Lastly, a question about customers and OKRs…

Q: Our organization is B2B. How do OKRs work for us?

A: You’re still targeting customers, but only your customers—the businesses who buy your products and services—not their customers.

OKRs work in business-to-business (B2B) environments in exactly the same way they do in consumer-facing organizations, with one exception: The humans whose behavior you are trying to change are the people in your client organizations who buy and use the products you provide. 

In B2B environments, it’s typical to be in a situation where your customers have customers of their own. It might be tempting to think that your job is to help your customers succeed with their customers. In a way it is—but you need to be careful here. You can’t be responsible for your customer’s customers. So the mistake you want to avoid is setting key results that measure the behavior of your customer’s customers. 

Once you deliver your product to your customers, it’s up to them to do the right thing with their customers—to market it correctly, price it correctly, deliver it correctly, use it correctly, etc. All of these factors affect how their customers behave. But you can’t be responsible for those behaviors because you don’t influence them. Instead, you need to focus on the buyers, implementers, and internal users of your products and whether or not you’re making them more successful. 

Ready for more answers? You know where to find them.

What’s new on the blog

The OKRs of Book Writing (or How I Wrote OKRs for Our Book Launch) – As Josh and I have talked about writing and publishing our book, a lot of people have asked us, “Do you have OKRs for the book?” It’d be pretty hypocritical if we didn’t, wouldn’t it? Yes, we have measures of success, and yes, they are formulated into an OKR statement that focuses on our customers—you, the readers. In this blog post, I share the OKRs we came up with and how we came up with them.


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