OKRs for the Engineering team

OKRs create leverage for every team across your organization, including the engineering team. Team-level and department-level Objectives help engineers work together and stay on track, while individual Objectives are motivating and encourage team members to obtain greater results than they previously thought possible. Here, we’ll discuss some of the fundamentals of OKRs creation, including how to craft an effective engineering OKR. We’ll also provide OKR examples for inspiration at all levels of the engineering team: individuals, managers and the entire team.

Best practices for Engineering OKRs

Like all OKRs, engineering OKRs should be written with a few specific principles in mind. Poorly-written OKRs erode the power of the methodology – they can be confusing, ineffective or even demotivating. Here are some tips to help you with the process:

Objectives should be general

When writing the “Objective” element of an OKR, you’ll want to convey an overarching idea, similar to a “mission statement” – what are you trying to do? What does your team need to accomplish? There’s no need to include too many specifics at this point. Try to keep your Objective simple by avoiding the words “and” and “or”.

Measure What Matters by John Doerr contains many examples of real OKRs used by highly successful companies. One example of an Objective found in the book is “Delight customers”. In just two words, this phrase succinctly explains the purpose of the OKR. An engineering-related example might be something like “Increase data security” or “Release flawless products”.

If you’re concerned that just a few words might be too short to convey what you need, you can also add details to describe your Objective in a separate section (in GTMHub, you can do this in the description section). 

Key Results should always be measurable…and ambitious

As Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo, once famously said: “It’s not a Key Result unless it has a number”. What this means is that Key Results should be quantitative and measurable. This way, there can be no debate on whether the KRs have been achieved or not, and your team will be able to easily track their progress using a percentage system. An example of one such KR is “Reduce average load time by 30%”.

Key Results should also be ambitious. A good KR should be a stretch to achieve, not simply a task to check off the list – at Google, for example, 70% is considered “full achievement” of a Key Result. For the aforementioned Key Result, 21 is 70% of 30… so you could say that the KR will have been achieved, even if your team manages to reduce average lead time by just 21%.

No more than 5 Key Results per Objective

Finally, don’t add too many Key Results to each objective. A long list of KRs can quickly become both complicated and unmemorable. Two to five Key Results per Objective is usually considered ideal

What NOT to do

To help demonstrate how to use these best practices, let’s examine a flawed engineering OKR:

Objective: Be a great engineering team

Key Results:

  • Develop excellent products
  • Get killer customer feedback
  • Zero bugs in any of our code

In the above OKR, the Objective is fine, as it presents a general goal for the team. The Key Results, however, are problematic. The first two KRs, “develop excellent products” and “get killer customer feedback”, aren’t measurable—we can’t determine how much we’ve completed using any sort of scale (in fact, these two KRs might actually be great Objectives). The third KR seems almost unattainable; we might want to replace it with a “stretch goal” that is ambitious but still achievable.

Now that we’ve outlined some general best practices for OKRs, let’s move on to some examples. Below are some sample engineering-related OKRs for teams, managers, and individuals. Use them to inspire your own. For the purpose of simplicity, we’ll focus specifically on software engineers in this section.

Engineering OKR examples for teams

Here are several examples that teams can work towards as a group:

1) Objective: Release great software

Key Results:

  • Cut response time by 15 seconds
  • Ship 3 new features this quarter
  • Reduce the number of bugs by 35%

2) Objective: Increase data security

Key Results:

  • 100% of team members complete security training
  • Increase data backup frequency by 25%
  • Maintain number of data breaches at zero

3) Objective:  QA shines bright

Key Results:

  • Reduce critical bugs to zero a week before launch
  • Fewer than 5 user-reported bugs in each release
  • Unit test 50% of our code

Engineering OKR examples for managers

Below are some examples of individual-level OKRs geared towards managers:

1) Objective: Build a stellar engineering team

Key Results:

  • Hire 3 engineers by end of quarter
  • Increase employee satisfaction ratings to 100%
  • Decrease bug reports by 40%

2) Objective: Grow an industry expert team

Key Results:

  • Attend 2 conferences as a team
  • Free up 10 hours/employee for professional development activities each month
  • 95% employee completion of mandatory training modules

Engineering OKR examples for individuals

Finally, here are some examples for individual engineers. In the past, some organizations have chosen not to use individual-level OKRs in order to focus more on collaborative goals; whether you decide to use them or not is up to you.

1) Objective: Improve code quality

Key Results:

  • Decrease load time by 50%
  • Document 100% of my code 
  • Reduce runtime warnings by 60%

2) Objective: Stay current

Key Results:

  • Listen to one industry podcast per week
  • Read 3 industry-related books 
  • Present at least 5 insights each week at our team meeting

You should now be well-equipped to create both group and individual OKRs for engineering. When creating your team-level goals, remember that they can be either top-down (set by management) or bottom-up (set by team members). It’s a good idea to strive for a healthy balance of both types. 

More Useful Articles:

Stretch Organizations, Not People!
The Relevant Organization
OKRs Are a Means to an End
OKRs: It’s About the Struggle. Embrace It.

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