One of the most unmentioned factors of successful OKRs — Granularity

Photo by Randy ORourke on Unsplash

NOTE: This claim is merely based on my experience using OKRs on the last 3 years, and reading/watching a bunch of content on this topic.

There are many tips on how to articulate OKRs to make a successful implementation of this goal setting methodology.

  • Setting a small number of goals (2 to 4)
  • With a small number of KPIs (2 to 4)
  • Quarterly setting
  • Measurable outcome based on KPIs and not “yes/no” outputs
  • Challenging: set something that you have a 50% chance of achieving or a score that you expect to hit at 70% instead of 100%.

All those are extremely important. And there are many more.

But almost nowhere I found mention to another factor that is crucial to OKR success: granularity.

What is OKR granularity?

A common example of Objective is “increase sales X%”, with Key results like “Have X more users”, “Increase conversion Y%”, etc.

The problem is that such high-level OKRs are too broad, and can be achieved in very different ways.

That sounds reasonable! At the end of the day, we want to have autonomous teams that pursue and are accountable for achieving certain outcomes. Why may this be a problem?

A word on company size

If you are a startup with a small focused team this type of goal will probably be enough. The team will quickly decide what direction they want to take to achieve the goal and start working on it.

The problem arises in bigger companies where many teams need to work together. Let say that in order to “Have X more users” you can either open to a new market (a new geography for instance) or work on better promoting to your existing leads base. If two teams decide to work in different approaches you will most likely achieve some success but not as much as if those teams were aligned.

As Spotify puts it:

“Autonomous teams, loosely coupled but tightly aligned.”

A word on team “seniority”

Another factor that can affect bigger companies is when teams do not know enough about the business or still cannot detect good opportunities. In this cases, if you use high-level goals (like “Have more users”), it will be difficult for them to come up with good ideas (or at least not bad ideas), and they will most likely just accept what the nearest HiPPOs (“highest paid person’s opinion”) say, losing the idea of autonomy that OKRs provide.

Why granularity can help?

Granularity can help fix both of those problems.

In the first place, it would be easy to narrow the goal to “Have X more users in Y geography”, boosting team alignment (and chances of success). That’s just taking the goal “one step down”, making it more granular.

You can even go further “Capture X more leads in Y geography” — this will narrow down the scope to landings and traffic initiatives over conversion initiatives for instance.

This provides teams with direction, alignment, and focus. In larger companies, everyone will know what is the bigger picture of what they are working on. For “not so senior” teams, they will have a narrow scope to learn and focus on.

A word of caution

You can overdo granularity. And if you do, you also loose autonomy.

For instance, if you say “Capture X more leads in Y geography with Facebook ads”, you eliminate the chance for teams to explore different strategies and different traffic sources.

If you go so narrow that there is only one initiative that can achieve that target, there is no room for teams to experiment or decide the best way to achieve the outcome, and they will just focus on tasks rather than goals, removing one of the core benefits of OKRs.

Thanks for reading! I would love to hear feedback and what other unmentioned factors you consider necessary for successful OKRs.

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One of the most unmentioned factors of successful OKRs — Granularity was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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