What are OKRs and Why Does Your IT Team Need Them?

Author: Tyler Cox


Every part of every organization needs to set goals to improve, and it's no different when it comes to IT. In many respects, the IT department is the backbone of the organization, and ensuring that the goals of the IT team mirror those of the organization as a whole is critical to that organization's success.


Management guru Peter Drucker is often quoted as saying that "you can't manage what you can't measure." In other words, you won't know if you are successful unless that success is defined and tracked. It's the same with goals. Unless you define your goals and find a way to measure your progress in achieving them, it's likely those goals will never be reached.


Although there are various concepts in measuring progress towards goals, one proven method is through the use of OKRs.



OKRs are a concept initially developed by technology giant Google in the 1990s. The acronym OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results, and it's a method of setting goals and tracking progress towards reaching those goals. Along with Google, organizations using OKRs include LinkedIn, Oracle, and Twitter. Compare it with an airplane trip from New York to Los Angeles. The objective, of course, is to reach Los Angeles, while the key results might be successfully making your connections in Chicago and Houston.



OKR methodology begins with setting broad objectives. For example, the objectives for an IT department might be "Simplify Your Communications Technology Stack." That may be a lofty goal, but what key results indicate success? Those results might include taking the various technologies your company uses for voice, video conferencing and messaging, and migrating them to a unified communication platform. Results that indicate success might be "Reduce spending on communications services by 25 percent" or "Migrate three-fourths of company locations to a unified communications platform."


Another objective might be to "Train Employees on Computer Security." With stories about organizations bought to their knees by hackers appearing in the news regularly, that's certainly an objective worth achieving. Key results indicating success might include ensuring every employee has passed a quiz on the protocols for dealing with email attachments. Another example could be implementing procedures for using flash drives brought from home or achieving a 95 percent reduction in virus infections or malware incidents on company computers.



So when it comes to your organization, knowing how to write OKRs is a significant part of the challenge. The process starts by collaborating with other teams to ensure everyone is on the same page about the overall goals. From there, determine what goals the IT department can set that will support to organization's goals.


Be ambitious in setting those goals, but don't make them unreachable. Aggressive goals can make your team perform better, but unobtainable goals can be a morale-killer.


From there, determine what the measure of progress will be. Key results should have a starting value as well as a value that indicates achievement of the objective. Those results should be able to be measured at any given time to show the team where they stand.


And finally, keep the team informed about where they stand relative to the objective. Knowing that the objective is within reach might provide that extra bit of boost the team needs to cross the finish line.