What is an OKR?
‘OKR’, which stands for ‘Objectives and Key Results,’ is a goal management framework designed to define goals and track outcomes. It differs from typical goal-setting techniques because the aim is to set very ambitious goals that encourage teams to flex their creativity.
OKRs are used by Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other successful companies to create measurable goals, and to make sure team members are aligned and engaged.
Google’s approach to OKRs
John Doerr learned about OKRs during his time at Intel. After leaving Intel, he joined Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which became one of the first major Google investors and advisers.
While working with Google, Doerr introduced the concept of OKR to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In 1999, Google implemented OKRs within its organization. It still uses OKRs today to make goals visual and measurable.
In 2013, Google Ventures partner Rick Klau led an in-depth presentation covering the value of setting OKRs, and how Google uses them today.
Committed and aspirational OKR types
There are two key types of OKRs: aspirational OKRs and committed OKRs.
Aspirational OKRs are designed to be beyond reach, and failure is celebrated as an attempt to move closer to a goal.
Committed OKRs are designed to be met, and there is less room for failure. If a team cannot deliver a committed OKR, they should turn to management for support to get back on track.
The Components of OKRs
The two key components of OKRs are objectives, and key results (KRs). Objectives are supported by KRs, which act as benchmarks.
Objectives should be short, memorable descriptions of what you are setting out to achieve. They should be inspiring and engaging in order to motivate the team to achieve them. They must be created to fit around the team culture, which means they’re often informal and fun. OKRs often use slang, inside jokes, and even profanity. They should never be boring.
KRs must be measurable (usually on a 0-10 scale), specific, and time-bound. Each objective should have multiple KRs – usually between two to five. Setting over five KRs is not recommended, as it will be difficult for the team to remember them.
OKR SRE Example
An example objective for an SRE could be to “reduce the number of errors”. The associated KRs for this objective could be to reduce 502 errors from 2% down to 1%, reduce build security errors by 50% and reduce open-source software-related errors by 5%.
Another example objective could be to “reduce the time taken to fix errors”. The associated KRs for this objective could be to speed up the resolution of critical incidents by 3% and reduce the mean time to repair (MTTR) for on-call engineers by 7%.
Adopting OKR initiatives for SRE
There is huge diversity in what SRE teams do and how they do it. SRE teams are made up of people with a diverse range of skills – including systems engineering, architecture, project management, systems engineering, leadership, and more.
As a result, there is no single model for SRE. Rather, multiple combinations work. As a result, there are numerous ways in which OKR initiatives can be adopted for SRE.
One of the key ways that OKR can be used within SRE is to modify a team’s dynamics and increase engagement by setting transparent objectives.
Post-incident stress and burnout are common among SREs, and studies have shown that 67% of SREs who report feeling stressed after every incident do not believe their companies care about their wellbeing.
Adopting OKR initiatives can help to create alignment both within the team and across other teams and ultimately reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.
Creating a results-oriented culture with OKRs
Companies with a results-oriented culture evaluate their work by their results. It is the opposite of a task-oriented culture, which assigns specific tasks to employees and evaluates them on what they produce.
OKRs encourage a results-oriented culture among employees and offer benefits from both a business and cultural perspective. This is largely because it increases employee engagement by increasing their freedom and responsibility, and encourages them to adopt a growth-focused mindset. Instead of being monitored on how much they can produce, they are rewarded for working efficiently to achieve set objectives.
Giving employees the power to choose how they meet an objective also means that managers have to spend less time supervising them. As a result, more time can be spent on more important tasks, such as providing valuable feedback and coaching. This is becoming increasingly important, given that 41% of Millennials and 50% of Gen Zs stated that their career and job prospects contributed to their stress in a global 2021 survey by Deloitte.
OKR SRE Examples
- Increase customer satisfaction in a survey to an average of 8/10
- Speed up the resolution of critical incidents by 8%
- Reduce the network latency among the top three services by 5%
- Increase the application’s average load speed by 3%
- Reduce open-source software related errors by 5%
OKR vs KPI
While there can be overlap between OKRs and KPIs, they are vastly different concepts.
KPIs are business metrics designed to evaluate the performance of an organization, individual, or project over a period of time. They are essentially measurements within a framework.
An OKR, on the other hand, is a framework. It uses a given set of metrics to track achievement. An OKR framework should be aggressive and ambitious. The goals should always be quantifiable, and obtaining them should feel like a challenge.
Improving Reliability with OKRs
OKRs help teams align across the entire organization and are particularly useful when trying to improve reliability and create a shift-left culture. Since reliability is a team sport that everyone should care about, adopting OKRs is a great way to create shared values and goals across departments.