Objectives and Key Results are a goal-setting tool implemented by design teams and other departments for setting challenging and ambitious goals with measurable results. OKRs help you track progress, encourage engagement and create alignment around measurable goals. They are amazing for fostering an environment where employees manage to work with purpose. Firms like Airbnb, Intel, and LinkedIn have achieved good results with OKRs. Deploying a goal framework the correct way can foster a better working environment.
OKR methodology is rather simple and when implemented properly can help your design team come up with high output management, and help align your team and strengthen communication as you work towards your business goals.
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Why are OKRs Important?
Performance reviews and goal setting have been around for quite some time and are difficult to live without, especially for larger firms. The OKR based model provides guidance. Being the most commonly used performance review framework globally, OKRs are known for their use in large companies. However, you can implement them in firms of any size. When it comes to design teams, they are indirect contributors to a firm’s success, with their contribution a little tougher to quantify especially when pitted against functions like sales or service. As a design manager or designer, you may be asked to set and align OKRs in order to measure success.
What are Performance Reviews?
Workers are considered to be an input in the production process, according to the principles of the industrial world. To find out which workers are performing well vs those that are not, a system of the review was developed. Today, human capital is abundant, and a simple way of finding out which workers should be retained was established. Large American corporations, most notably GE, adopted the ‘merit system’. GM and IBM too created complex systems for performance appraisal of their staff. Modern corporations have evolved significantly, and modern theories place employees as partners in an organization’s success.
Many firms have done away with firm-wide goal setting and performance evaluations. However, as an individual designer or manager, you might find yourself working for a firm that uses the OKR model for performance reviews, and you need to come up with meaningful OKRs to succeed.
Why do we need OKRs?
Originally, OKRs were not conceived to be a performance measurement system. They were supposed to create alignment and push boundaries, with the idea being that people must set ambitious targets, and measure them diligently. If OKRs become the sole method of performance reviews, employees tend to become a little defensive thus defeating the entire point of the OKR model. They make sense at a team/group level, not an individual level. And should not be used as the sole source of input when evaluating your employees.
Breaking Down OKRs
Originating in Intel in the 80s, OKRs today is synonymous with goal setting and performance reviews. Google adopted the framework and many others went on to emulate Google. An OKR is made up of 2 parts, i.e the Objective and the Key Result.
Objectives denote the memorable qualitative descriptions of what you wish to achieve. Objectives must be short, engaging, and inspirational. It should motivate and challenge the team. Key Results are those metrics that measure your progress toward set objectives. For each objective, you might have a set consisting of 2 to 5 key results. All key results have to be quantitative and measurable. Let’s take an example –
- To improve a bank’s customer service by the end of Q4 2022.
- Score 50 or above in terms of Net Promoter Score.
- Take less than an hour to resolve critical customer care issues.
- Process data 50% faster on the banking app, when compared to Q3.
In other words, a proper goal needs to describe what you will achieve and how you will measure its achievement. The keywords here are “as measured by”, as measurement turns a wish into a goal. You cannot have a goal without measurements.
OKRs for Designers
For designers, the challenge is that OKRs are quite often top-down and related to the business objectives. A designer’s job is often hard to quantify and measure, making it tougher to claim success but also be accused of failure. Suppose you are a UX or UI designer working in a business unit, let’s say a service-oriented one like a bank. How do you contribute and measure your success in achieving company objectives? It needs to be broken down to be more relevant for designers.
To help break down organizational OKRs to an individual level, you can add activities to the OKR model. Sometimes, individuals begin writing OKRs to define things they’ll do, and then combine these with Key Results.
Example of OKR for Designers
Suppose you are a designer in an eCommerce team and your manager asks you to set OKRs. They might suggest one or two, at the organizational level, a third related to the design team, and maybe a fourth related to personal growth.
Your eCommerce firm or mission has several objectives.
- Increase the sales revenue through digital channels by at least 20%.
- Launch ABC new products by Q2.
- Re-platform the site’s CMS by Q3, by saving 1000 USD in annual savings.
Sometimes the firm may not define objectives, which might make your job of defining OKRs a little tougher. The way in which you will support these objectives may vary, as all your contributions shall be design-oriented. Let’s take for example a football team. Different players play different roles, like goalkeeper, striker, midfielder, winger, etc. Do you think that the goalkeeper’s objectives align with that of the striker? If you think they are different, you may be making the same error people do, when thinking of group-level objectives. The objective of every player in the football game is to help win the football game. The roles might be different, however, there is one common goal.
The goalkeeper’s key results could be something like this –
- Concede 0 goals.
- Achieve a goal-kick pass accuracy of around 80%.
- Save at least 75% of all attempts on target from within the penalty area.
- Similarly, the midfielder’s key results could be
- Achieve a pass rate of more than 90%.
- Create at least 5 goal-scoring chances.
- Score a certain number of assists.
- Score a goal.
Coming back to the OKRs we spoke about for an eCommerce mission. Your objectives remain the same. The things you’ll do to support these objectives differ. Here is where you have to consider activities. As a designer, let’s define the things you will do to help the team achieve its objectives –
- Produce and deliver design assets in a timely manner.
- Produce and deliver high-quality designs based on an established design process which includes user research and testing where required.
- Work with business stakeholders to make sure designs drive business outcomes.
- Get feedback from technology to ensure feasibility
- Standardize components so they include delivery speed and bring down building costs.
- Corresponding to these, the OKRs should be
- Deliver designs on time maintaining a 90% rate of on-time delivery.
- Maintain a 100% rate of usability testing for new designs, unless exceptions are made.
- Where appropriate, run at least two cross-functional alignment workshops during the project’s life cycle.
- Conduct reviews with tech architects and developmental engineers at the appropriate phase for all design work that is major.
- Create at least 5 new reusable components to meet usability and accessibility standards.
What if you don’t meet your OKRs?
There are quite a few reasons behind why you may not meet your OKRs, however, in this article’s content, if your activities are defined and your KRs are based on them, you could reverse-analyze if you struggle to meet your OKRs. You should check the activities that you have been conducting to see if they contribute to your OKRs. This looping process can help you refine your activities and KRs on a continuous basis instead of setting them up once every couple of months.
In conclusion, the best approach for defining and measuring progress using an OKR-based model will depend on the following –
- How your firm uses OKRs and overall maturity.
- Your profession (in this case designer).
- The effort which you personally seek to apply.
OKRs are only as good as their implementation. Their popularity has made them quite commonplace in the tech industry. Sadly, a lot of organizations don’t have the necessary maturity and framework to do it any justice. As an organization leader, it is important to understand this so you can manage your team’s expectations and also recognize the limitations of an OKR-based approach to performance management if put in place properly.