OKR Key Results: 7 Things You Should Know

Keith Roberts

Last updated on August 30th, 2022

Key Results are likely the most important part of OKRs. Unfortunately, they’re also the thing that most people get wrong. In this post, we’ll dive deep into 7 things about key results that everyone working with OKRs should know. Let’s get started!

image of people noting down key results

Here are the 7 important things we'll cover about key results:

  1. Can Key Results Be Binary?

  2. How Often Should I Track Key Result Progress?

  3. How Ambitious Should My Key Results Be?

  4. How Many Key Results Per Objective?

  5. How Many Key Results Per Employee?

  6. How Long Should My Key Results Be?

  7. Can I Share Key Result With A Team Member?

1) Can Key Results Be Binary?

The short answer is no, they can’t. If you google “key result examples”, a lot of times you’ll stumble across many sites suggesting that you could create key results like “Launch new feature X”.

Don’t!

The purpose of Key Results is to enable you and your team to track progress on them, objectively. You should be able to pull in a person from the street, give them access to your data and have them answer how you’re doing.

But if your Key Result is binary, you’ll only be able to answer the progress questions once you’ve finished the OKR cycle. That’s a problem. 

A great exercise that will enable you to get rid of binary key results is to ask yourself “Why do we want to launch feature X?”. Maybe you’ve observed that a lot of users are experiencing some error in your software product. You’ll want to fix that so you launch feature X.

Note: if companies have binary key results, it's often a sign that a manager is afraid of delegating the responsibility to the team member, and instead just wants OKRs to be about what the manager wants done. If that's you, read more about delegating OKRs here.

But what if launching feature X doesn’t fix the problem? Would you like the team to congratulate you for launching the feature but not fixing the problem? I hope not.

So don’t make binary key results and ask yourself “why do I want this?” until you reach a non-binary way of measuring if you succeed or not.

2) How Often Should I Track Key Result Progress?

You should track progress on your key results as often as you expect there to be changes in progress. Imagine that I have a key result saying “Reach $25k MRR from $20k”. My guess is that I would at least add a little bit of revenue each week. So it makes sense for me to track it every week.

On the other hand, if I only expect there to be noticeable progress on a monthly basis, reporting on it every week makes little sense. I should instead use the time to make sure that the initiatives I plan for are adding true value to my progress.

3) How Ambitious Should My Key Results Be?

In short, key results should have a probability of being achieved of 50%. But why 50%? One of the requirements for key results is that they should be very ambitious. 

The reasoning here is that people very often overestimate what they can do in a day, but underestimate what they can achieve in a month or quarter. And so, setting ambitious targets often lead to extraordinary results. This is one of the reasons why the OKR framework is so popular.

In addition, when scoring your key results, it’s usually told that achieving 70% of your target goal is enough to call the goal “achieved”. This is again one of the reasons why key results shouldn’t be binary as you’ll then only succeed or fail. Nothin in-between.

4) How Many Key Results Per Objective?

You should create as few key results as possible to achieve your objective. The overarching benefit of OKRs is laser-focus. Creating too many key results will spread focus and you’ll likely have too many initiatives not being related to each other.

We usually say that unless your objective is covering a larger team, sticking to 1 or 2 key results should be enough. Remember, the key here is to be very focused on moving in the same direction.

Large corporations often have more key results, but that’s usually also because each department or team is responsible for one each. This makes great sense, but if you’re creating them for your own small team or yourself, stick to as few as possible.

5) How Many Key Results Per Employee?

If you’re setting key results on an employee level, you should aim to stick to as few as possible. The reason is that employees are likely also working on team or company OKRs and their focus should be as tight as possible.

Companies like Spotify chose to ditch personal OKRs because the overhead was too big. They essentially spent too much time creating them. So if you’re going to use them, make sure they’re as few as possible.

6) How Long Should My Key Results Be?

There are no requirements for how long your key results should be. One thing to take note of, however, is that you need to ensure that people reading your key results will understand what they’re about.

So instead of saying “MRR should go to $30k”, use something like “Increase MRR from $28k to $30k before Q2”. This provides context for other team members reading it and will allow them to objectively assess progress on it too.

If you're curious about examples of good vs. bad OKRs, read our post where we show specific examples of both.

7) Can I Share Key Result With A Team Member?

Yes, you can share key results with a team member or co-worker. The important thing here is that you align on the initiatives you think will get you closer to reaching your shared key result.

An important note here is that one of you should still own the key result. Ultimately, if you do not succeed with your goal, one of you has to be accountable for that. Delegating OKRs is also a key aspect of OKRs and you can read more about that here.

Summary

We hope this post helped clarify a few things about OKRs and specifically, key results. Don't worry if things still feel a bit confusing. OKRs is one of those things where as you get started working with it, you learn so much more.

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