The Difference between Key Results and Tasks

One element of OKR is Key Results, which represents the outcomes we need to deliver to accomplish the Objective. But, what exactly is an outcome and how do we build the distinction between an outcome and a task?

The Difference between Key Results and Tasks

In the previous article, we went into detail about OKR, including the brief history and the definition. The Objective is what you want to accomplish, while the Key Results should represent the outcome that signifies whether you achieve the Objective. How would you be confident that you’ve come up with a good set of Key Results? The idea is: your Objective is accomplished once you completed all your Key Results.

One common mistake that people often make is thinking that Key Results equal tasks. Key Results should not represent tasks or activities. OKR is not a to-do list. It’s a goal-setting framework. Thus, it focuses on the objective and the outcome.

For example:

  • Let’s say the Objective is to increase sales revenue by 30% by the end of Q4 2018.
  • A Key Result that represents task for that Objective will be: contacting 50 warm leads to schedule initial meetings, in which the meetings must happen before the end of November 2018.

It is a task because it is not the outcome that we want to achieve; it’s only activity. To change it into the right Key Results, we need to ask: what is the outcome that we want by contacting 50 warm leads to schedule initial meetings? One possible answer is to get 10 new clients by the end of Q4 2018. Therefore, the Key Result could be: 10 new clients by the end of Q4 2018.

Key Results shouldn’t represent tasks. But, to achieve Key Results, you need to break it down into specific tasks. This will represent the necessary actions you need to take to achieve the Key Results.

Let’s use the example above. The Key Result is 10 new clients by the end of Q4 2018. Do you think you can achieve that with only one activity: by contacting 50 warm leads to schedule initial meetings?

The answer is no. It’s highly unlikely for you to achieve the Key Result with only one activity. Thus, you must think of several activities to increase your chance to achieve it.

For example:

Key Result: 10 new clients by the end of Q4 2018.

Task:

  1. The initial meetings with 50 warm leads are scheduled. Meeting dates must happen before the end of November 2018.
  2. The infographics and whitepaper are sent to C-level in leasing, insurance, and banking industry.
  3. The follow-up email are sent to clients seven (7) days after the first contact.

Summary: OKR is a framework to track your Objective and the outcome. Objective itself refers to the things you want to accomplish. It needs to be inspiring, significant, and time-bound. To know whether you achieve your Objective, you need Key Results which represent outcome, not tasks. If you had come up with the right Key Results, then your Objective should be accomplished when you achieved all of your Key Results. To achieve your Key Results, you need to break it down into a specific set of tasks.

An example of well-known OKR

Sundar Pichai presents his Chrome keynote at Google’s I/O developer conference. Image credit: TechHive

According to John Doerr, Google has used OKR for more than two decades now. OKR is implemented in all of Google’s projects, one of it being the Google Chrome project. Here is how they used OKR to create the most popular web browser in the world.

2008 is the year of Google Chrome’s rollout. The Product Management team set this ambitious goal that would have an enduring influence on Google’s future:

Objective for 2008: Develop the next-generation client platform for web applications.

The main Key Result: Chrome reaches 20 million seven-day active users.

They deliberately set the bar for 20 million weekly active users by year’s end, knowing it was a formidable stretch. Their principle was to challenge the team without making them feel the goal is unachievable.

By the end of 2008, they didn’t achieve their OKR. Chrome did not reach 20 million seven-day active users. At this point, they didn’t change their objective. Instead, they changed the way they framed it.They admitted they didn’t reach the goal, but they pointed out they did lay out the foundation to break through this barrier. The changes in framing helped to motivate their teams; it told them their effort was not in vain.

In 2009, they kept the Objective, but changed the Key Result to 50 million seven-day active users. They failed, again, ending the year at 38 million.

In 2010, the Objective remained the same, but they decided to stretch themselves even more by changing the Key Result to 111 million users. This time, based on what they had done in 2008 and 2009, they knew it was imperative to reinvent the business of Chrome and think about growth in new ways.

They broke down the Key Result into several tasks:

  • Broadened their distribution deals with the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers].
  • Embarked on a “Chrome Fast” marketing campaign to heighten product awareness in the United States.
  • Expanded their demographic by launching Chrome for OS X and Linux.
  • Creating a passive alert for former Chrome users who’d been dormant.

The result? They achieved their goal: Chrome reached 111 million seven-day active users. Today, on mobile alone, there are more than a billion active users of Chrome. This achievement was made possible because of the team’s effort and discipline, supported by OKR.