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The Origin of OKRs: History of the OKRs framework

The Origin of OKRs: History of the OKRs framework

Contents

  • What are OKRs?
  • How do OKRs work?
  • Who came up with the idea of OKRs?
  • How did this idea spread?
  • What is the best book on OKRs?
  • How can I learn more about OKRs?

What are OKRs?

OKRs (short for Objectives and Key Results) is a strategy execution framework used by companies across the globe to grow at an exponential rate. Apart from strengthening the bridge between strategy and execution, OKRs are known to bring agility, transparency, and ownership among teams by connecting team contributions to company-level metrics. Here’s a quick glimpse into the fundamentals:

Objectives define the vision by asking - What do we need to achieve and why do we need to achieve it?

Then, the team carefully sets KRs (Key Results) for the Objective. KRs are metrics that help measure progress toward the Objective. The key question is - How do we measure progress?

There is also the function of tasks and activities, although it is not a part of the abbreviation. Tasks are formed around the question - what do we need to do to get there? In OKR culture, tasks are discussed weekly during OKR check-ins with everyone being accountable for managing their time and attention, to focus on moving the needle on strategic priorities. 

One of the most important things about OKRs is that they are meant to be set as aspirational goals, and not be easy to achieve. When teams set OKRs together, they are able to connect their efforts to the big-picture company outcomes. Teams also come together to collaborate on shared commitments and call out the allegiance that each team has to another. OKRs, when executed correctly, will ensure that the fear of failure does not hold teams back.

How do OKRs work?

OKRs are time-bound; they are set at the beginning of each quarter. Once OKRs are set, teams can connect and align in OKRs and keep updating progress against outcomes through regular (i.e. weekly) check-ins.

The best practice is to set OKRs as teams. Teams succeed together and fail together. OKRs should not be linked to performance/compensation reviews and KPIs. However, this practice does not come at the cost of accountability - because although the Objective is set as a team, each KR has precisely one owner to drive progress.

Moreover, CFRs (conversation, recognition, and feedback) are the backbone of OKRs. This means that team members keep each other motivated as they experiment and stretch together to achieve audacious goals.

OKRs have it understood that reaching 100% progress is unlikely. However, by setting aspirational goals, teams usually end up achieving more than what they thought was possible. This is what makes OKRs a powerful tool for strategy execution, organizational growth, and team alignment.

Tack progress against outcomes and predict the achievement of your OKRs on the Fitbots platform

Who came up with the idea of OKRs?

Andy Grove, Former Intel CEO, Dies at 79 - IEEE Spectrum
Andy Grove, Former CEO of Intel

OKRs originated in the 1970s. Inspired by Peter Drucker's idea of Management by Objectives (MBOs), Andy Grove - the CEO of Intel - came up with the concept of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). 

When Andy moved to Intel, he realized that the challenge lay in executing strategy the right way with a focus on achieving outcomes. He created the OKR framework and used it for Project Crush. He had a very popular saying:

“You either achieve it or you don't, there is no mid-way.”

Under his leadership, Intel grew from $1.9 billion to $26 billion and it would be unfair to leave OKRs out of the credit because it developed a radical focus amongst teams toward a shared vision.

In a world where ideas were priceless, Andy created an ecosystem where ‘execution was king’ because he believed that without execution, ideas were mere concepts/theories. A maverick who believed that every employee should create and own their goal and that every member of the company counts and is significant to the success of the organization, Andy is undoubtedly the father of OKRs!

How did this idea spread?

John Doerr

John Doerr, an American investor and venture capitalist, was introduced to OKRs at Intel. In 1999, he invested almost $12 million in a start-up and introduced OKRs to them. The start-up was Google, back when it had only 40 employees. Today, with 70,000+ employees across the globe, we can say that John Doerr's implementation of OKR methodology at Google was obviously successful – and OKRs are credited with Google’s meteoric growth. Doerr also introduced OKRs to other companies and some took up the framework on their own after being inspired by the journeys of others. Today, tech giants like Adobe, LinkedIn, and Spotify have taken on the OKR framework and framed their own success stories, as have thousands of Silicon Valley startups. 

What’s the best book on OKRs?

The most popular book on OKRs is easily 'Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth' which is the #1 New York Times Bestseller book written by John Doerr. 

This book contains details of the behind-the-scenes case studies of OKR implementation and has multiple narrators including Bill Gates and Bono. In essence, the book examines how companies leverage OKRs to bring agility, focus, and meteoric growth.

 

How can I learn more about OKRs?

Hey, we’ve got you covered. We have a bunch of free resources (ebooks, blogs, webinars, and podcasts) that you will find relevant, whether you are a CEO or someone who has newly joined a company that uses OKRs. 

For starters, we recommend checking out our free introductory course: get bite-sized pieces of information delivered right to your email. You can cover the whole course in a week, by putting in just an hour a day!

For enthusiasts who want to take the lead on successfully implementing OKRs in their company, we would suggest that you sign up to become a certified OKR coach with us. Our certification course is known for teaching how to implement OKRs in a comprehensive way using case studies.

Don’t forget that the easiest way is to follow us on LinkedIn for OKR updates and shoot us your questions on Quora

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About the Author

Bani is an OKR enthusiast who anchors content and marketing at Fitbots OKRs. She loves spreading the love of OKRs to enrich workplaces and collaborating to create engaging content for her readers.

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