• Paul Niven

HOW OFTEN SHOULD WE SET OKR?



Compared to many other management disciplines, one of the refreshing aspects of the OKR approach is that, at this point at least, it can be considered an open source framework. It’s not akin to generally accepted accounting . principles (GAAP) that lay out the rules companies must absolutely follow when reporting financial results. There are no founding fathers or gurus laying down OKR guidelines as if on stone tablets, and this open-source environment is a great boon for organizations because it allows for customization and flexibility in implementation. There are a number of core principles (which we’re sharing with you), but ultimately, our advice is descriptive, not prescriptive, meaning you can alter parts of the model to ensure a fit with your particular business context.

How frequently you set OKRs is one of the areas you might modify. The default answer to how often you create OKRs is, of course, quarterly. As we’ve previously noted, one of the chief virtues of the model is this rapid rhythm, which ensures enhanced communication and learning throughout each twelve-week period. However, quarterly may not represent the most fitting cadence for your business. Sadly, not all organizations recognize this inherent malleability of the model and we’re aware of some that have abandoned OKRs because they falsely believed they must be set each quarter. Let’s read what John Doerr, who you’ll recall introduced OKRs to Google, has to say on the topic:


The key for any team or any group is that you use this on a regular basis...you should pick what frequency is right for you. When Intel was doing them monthly National Semiconductor did them every four weeks so they had thirteen periods in their manufacturing year because they were primarily a manufacturing company...and that was right for their culture. Most companies are quarterly, but some of the more agile firms are saying no, we want to line them up with our sprints or our development schedules. A quarter is too long. Instead of every twelve weeks I’m going to set the timeframe to be every six weeks. Some places choose to do them quarterly and in parallel annually. So I’ve got a set of annual OKRs and then some quarterly ones that I update along the way as well.


As Doerr correctly notes, the key is using OKRs on a regular basis, but of course the word regular may take on a different meaning for you than other companies. He also notes that some organizations will use a combination of both annual and quarterly OKRs. We call this a dual cadence approach. Within organizations using a dual cadence, the company defines a set of annual OKRs and typically breaks this down into a set of OKRs for each quarter. Teams may then create an annual and quarterly set of OKRs or decide to set OKRs only for the upcoming quarter. Among the bene fits of the dual cadence is the aid of context provided by establishing annual OKRs. Teams and individuals then possess a direct line of sight from their own OKRs to what the company wishes to realize during the year. In this way, an organization is balancing long-term (annual) strategic priorities with the quarterly victories necessary to meet them. Dual cadence is just one option; there are many others, again depending on the situation in which you find yourself. What matters most, to quote Doerr’s cogent guidance one more time, is using OKRs on a regular basis.

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