OKR should be specific

Your OKR, especially your Key Results, should be as specific as it can be. The less ambiguous, the better. You’re encouraged to be verbose to avoid misunderstanding.

There are several guides to help you write a specific OKR:

  1. Avoid terms or jargon—while this might seem trivial, the usage of terms or jargon is very likely to cause ambiguity within the team. Let’s take a look at one of the most used terms in a KR: finalized. The KR might sound something like this: the market research deck for Jan 2020 is finalized. What does finalize mean? Does it mean your work is approved by your manager? Does it mean there’s no more revision? Or, does it mean the outcome is shared with all the relevant stakeholders? It’d be better for you to write down the literal meaning instead. Thus, it’d be advisable to rewrite the KR into the market research deck for Jan 2020 is approved by the Head of Business Intelligence.
  2. Keep a glossary—if you and/or your team are inclined to use terms or jargon, then please create a glossary to accommodate that needs. This glossary would come in handy when you are explaining your KR to the team (or to other stakeholders). Whenever they’re not sure about the terms that you use, they can simply open the glossary to see what you mean.
  3. Write from a third party’s point of view—your KR should be readable by anyone who doesn’t share your skill set or expertise. They should have no problem digesting your KR even though they come from different teams or departments. This is especially important if there’s a healthy dose of transparency within the company. When someone from the Human Capital Department looks at a Product Manager’s OKR, she should be able to understand it. Thus, the readability aspect plays an important part in writing a KR. If you were not someone in Product Management or Engineering, which version (version 1 or version 2) of the KR below that you’d find easier to understand?

Once you manage to do all three, what’s the litmus test to see whether your OKR is specific or not?

You can try this simple experiment to find out: write down your OKR on the OKR Dashboard. Now, imagine you cannot come to the OKR session. The rest of your team (your manager and peers) will only rely on what you have written. If they can fully understand your priorities only by reading it, it means you did well in specifying your OKR. However, if questions are raised or confusions occur among the team, then it's a sign the ambiguity is still there. You'd need to put more effort to make your OKR more specific.


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