Common OKR mistakes: Too many objectives

First in our series of blog posts dealing with common pitfalls of implementing OKRs in an organization is the one of setting too many objectives.

It is advised that no person or team has more than 3 objectives per OKR period (usually quarter). In practice, however – when just starting out – people tend to write a “wish list” of objectives.

Example

  • Objective 1: Increase Engagement
  • Objective 2: Increase Demand
  • Objective 3: Improve Quality
  • Objective 4: Reduce Churn
  • Objective 5: Reduce attrition

Why is it a problem?

OKRs are about focus.

Choosing what NOT to do is just as important, if not more important, than choosing what to do. Making this process conscious is, indeed, one of the great benefits of OKRs methodology.

In the end, it is better to accomplish one objective, than not to accomplish five.

How to solve it?

Choosing what not to do is not easy. Often, it may seem as an instance of Morton’s fork.

While choice is often hard, it forces critical and constraint-based thinking on prioritizing the truly most important objectives. Such focus, time and time again, has proven to be the difference between mediocre organizations and truly outstanding ones.

When just starting, we suggest organizations to amplify this point by asking employees to have only one single OKR. Once things take off, having a rule – such as no more than 3 objectives per person – is advisable.

Also, OKRs are about commitment. They are not the complete list of things that people will do in a given period, but rather a list of really important objective(s) that people have committed to accomplish.