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December 22, 2023

The secret to crafting great OKRs for project management

Project Management
Jerzy Żurawiecki Content Specialist @BigPicture

Measuring project success — some teams use Key Performance Indicators, while others prefer Critical Success Factors. But for a more effective measure of progress and team inspiration, consider using Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

This method has been around since the 1970s, and companies like Intel and Google have experienced the benefits. You can, too.

What are OKRs?

OKRs is a goal-setting framework designed to coordinate efforts and measure success effectively. The idea behind OKRs is to focus on doing the right things and keeping track of their success.

OKRs consist of two pillars:

  • Objectives: The goals you want to achieve — the what. Objectives should be significant, concrete, action-oriented, and inspirational. For the project team, it means objectives are clear and worth the effort. That helps teams strive to get the best results.
  • Key Results: Ways of measuring the execution — the how. Each key result should be SMART: specific, measurable, aggressive, realistic, and time-bound. Think of them as outcomes that make the goal possible.

Simply put, Objectives and Key Results let everyone know where you’re going and how to get there. Ensure OKRs are visible to all to maintain focus across the organization.

It’s important to limit your number of objectives and key results. Ideally, aim for 3 to 5 objectives and 3-5 key results per objective.

Types of OKRs

There are three main types of OKRs:

  • Committed OKRs: Essential goals that teams must achieve in a given timeframe. Success is when all the key results are fully delivered. These are strategic goals, essential to the organization’s health and success. These goals require team commitment — and buy-in — and are often inspiring in nature.
  • Aspirational OKRs: Highly ambitious goals that push the limits of what’s possible. Some call them “moonshots” or “stretch goals.” Even partial achievements are valuable to the business.
  • Learning OKRs: These goals focus on learning. Usually related to experimentation, learning OKRs offer long-term business value.

Benefits of OKRs

Enhance focus on what’s important: Having no more than 5 objectives enables organizations to channel efforts into the most critical areas. It’s much better than dividing attention into many things that offer little benefit.

Stronger alignment between projects and business goals: OKRs can bridge business objectives and projects. If you know what the goal is and what the key results are, it’s easier to attach programs and projects to that.

Increased team commitment: Inspirational objectives can motivate project teams to deliver ambitious goals. When you have team buy-in, you can achieve amazing things.

Improved cross-team communication: When everyone can access OKRs, there’s less confusion about what’s important and how to measure progress. Clarity allows various teams to contribute in a meaningful way.

OKR best practices for project management

The versatility of OKRs means you can apply the framework to every team in the organization, including project management. In fact, setting OKRs is an excellent addition to your project management practices. Follow these practices to make good OKRs great.

Align with company OKRs

Your project management OKRs should support broader company objectives.

Start with vision and strategy, and what executive objectives should be based on. Once you have that, departments can create their own OKRs, which will be determined by executive objectives.

So, make sure your project management goals stem from executive objectives. Here’s a visual of what the structure could look like.

Executive OKRs should stem from the vision and strategy of the organization.

Supercharge your OKRs with projects

Add projects (or initiatives) with specific deliverables that correspond to key results.

To add more clarity, break down the initiatives into tasks. It’ll make managing the work necessary to deliver the key results easier.

Adding projects to OKRs to manage them easier

Limit time frames

Even though some projects take years, you don’t have to tie the OKRs to the project’s duration. Instead, create several OKRs, each lasting for shorter periods like quarters. This lets teams focus on the right things at the right time. Plus, a shorter scope is more manageable, reducing the possibility of scope creep.

Dividing objectives into smaller parts has another advantage: progress is visible much sooner. The team’s motivation grows when they see tangible results in a short period of time.

Keep OKRs easily accessible

Just like product roadmaps, high-level OKRs work best when everyone in the organization can see them. After all, they contain strategic information that aligns the work of many teams. That’s why it’s crucial to ensure easy access to the OKRs across teams.

With project OKRs, it’s only a must-have for relevant project team members — it’s the North Star that guides their work. Make sure everyone involved in the project can check the OKRs easily at any time.

Examples of project management OKRs

There is plenty you can improve with OKRs. A step in the project life cycle, resource management, or project performance — there are countless areas to choose from. Let’s break down some examples of Objectives and Key Results in project management that can help you craft your own OKRs.

Cost management
Objective: Increase profitability by $150,000.

Key result 1: Find 3 more cost-effective alternative software options without sacrificing functionality by the end of the month.
Key result 2: Perform cost analysis by the end of the month to find at least $75,000 in savings for the next quarter.
Key result 3: Re-negotiate contracts with 4 main suppliers to reduce costs by $40,000 for the next quarter.

Resource management
Objective: Improve the overall utilization rate in the team by 15%

Key result 1: Reduce the wait time between dependent tasks by 25%.
Key result 2: Eliminate 50% of bottlenecks within the project workflow.
Key result 3: Reallocate tasks from 4 of the most overloaded team members to other people with the same skill set.

Team performance
Objective: Reduce the number of delayed tasks in the development team by 20%

Key result 1: Implement 3 AI tools (chosen by the team) and measure their contribution to saving time over the next quarter.
Key result 2: Adjust the project timeline for the next quarter to better reflect the delivery process.
Key result 3: Identify 5 lessons learned to be implemented within the next 8 weeks.

Need great OKR and PPM software? Appfire has you covered

Without the right software to manage Objectives and Key Results, your work is harder. And why should it be? If your organization already uses Jira for work management, consider adding OKR for Jira by Appfire to your tool stack.

You can quickly create as many Objectives and Key Results as you want, which are visible in a single view so you can easily access each one.

On top of that, you can connect Jira issues to Key Results and track their progress in real-time.

OKR for Jira

Want to see a report view with in-depth stats of all your OKRs? OKR for Jira’s got your back. Display relevant information in handy dashboards to get valuable insights when you need it.

Dashboards in OKR for Jira

Last but not least, the app enables you to update Key Result data from external sources. And if you want to export OKR data to a business intelligence tool, it’s as easy as pie.

And for all your other Project Portfolio Management needs, there’s BigPicture by Appfire. It lets you keep better control of all your initiatives in one place. Whether it’s the project, program, or portfolio level, BigPicture can visualize and aggregate relevant data to help you make better decisions.

Plus, plan and manage timeline, scope, and resources in Classic, Agile, and Hybrid approaches. Track high-level objectives, report progress, and assess risks with ease.

With two-way synchronization, Jira and BigPicture data flows smoothly, reliably, and immediately, giving you confidence in the reliability of data and letting the team work in Jira while you see the “big picture” in our app.