When we begin a new project or work-item, it’s easy to conflate the goal(s), get overexcited on the concept, or overcommit to our stakeholders entirely. If that sounds like you or anyone you know, keep reading. For many reasons, our individual and/or our team’s initial expectations can oftentimes run counter to the reality that we will deliver upon project completion. No one wants this to happen. Most of us want to deliver what we set out to do, and to do so in a realistic manner. This is why deliberately managing expectations for any new project is a great idea.
Setting your project Objectives and Key Results
Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs, is a very powerful goal-setting tool, and when used correctly, can help you on the journey in your project. OKRs have been strongly evangelized by venture capitalist John Doerr, who introduced them at Google in the early 2000s. The concept has taken off and has been considered a strong contributor to the company’s longterm success.
As the name suggests the meaning, the objective is the what we want to deliver or have a first version of once the project is over. For example, if I am a restaurant owner and I’ve noticed a consistent decline in revenue recently, a good objective for me could be to “find, experiment with, and implement a new revenue stream”. objectives should be large and should require considerable amount of effort over your defined timeframe. You can and should have multiple objectives at the same time, but in the restaurant owner example, maybe this is the biggest and most relevant project to tackle, therefore it should have undivided attention paid to it.
Key Results are what you will receive once having met the stated objective. We should have a few key results for each objective. Considering our objective of “find, experiment with, and implement a new revenue stream”, some key results could be as follows: a) test two or three potential new businesses; b) grow revenue by 17 percent year-over-year; and c) achieve a profit margin of 30 percent on the new business. While these are made up key results here, they provide good context: all results are clearly stated, quantifiable, and specific to my business.
Break down components of work
Once we’ve stated our OKRs, we can begin to break down the work. Because we know what our key results should be, we focus on accomplishing those! We know we wanted to test two-to-three new revenue streams, but in order to test them we need to identify some new areas to enter into. Given our main business is a brick and mortar restaurant, it is logical to stay in the food industry. We could test the following ideas: 1) a new food truck concept with only our best sellers as options; and 2) package our best selling products for retail distribution through a wholesale channel. These sound like good experiments, and other restaurants have businesses like these as well.
Now that we know what we want to explore, we just need to do it. To be very clear, we’ve gone from having three key results, broken the first one down, and now we’re working towards completing it. We don’t need to get into the details of how we start the new business, but each of those subsequent tasks is to be broken down and fully understood. If at any point we’re doing something that doesn’t relate to the key result and doesn’t lead to the objective, we need to stop and re-evaluate where we’re at currently. Once we’ve tested each of the two business ideas, we will have satisfied the first key result, and hopefully we will know the margins associated with that business as well, thus satisfying the last key result. The point of emphasis here is to have individual components related to the objective broken down, such that we can keep tasks small and manageable, which will keep us moving forward.
Get feedback regularly and often
We’ll never know if we’re on track to accomplish our objective if we don’t stop to check in. You cannot expect what you do not inspect. This should be straight forward, and suggests the practice of following up with those on our team (possibly following up with ourselves) to make sure we’re making progress in the right direction. This can be weekly or bi-weekly, but any longer than that and you risk diverging too far from the true path we’re on. Feedback should come from the stakeholders you’re seeking to satisfy. In our restaurant example, the owner is a stakeholder, her family, the customers, and the employees. All those opinions and insights are valuable at some level, and we should actively be seeking counsel at the interval that makes sense to us, but not longer than every two weeks.
While work is typically ongoing, we are never really “done”, but we can certainly be in a state of “project completed”. Once we’ve met our objectives, we’re done in this sense. That’s it. We knew from the beginning what we set out to do, because we described the results we wanted to achieve. Hopefully we hit them in our allotted time, but if not, we have valuable information that should suggest how to proceed. If we fall short on our key results, for example, the profit margin is only 10 percent, we know that we have some choices to make around sourcing materials or raising costs for the customer, among other choices. This is fine, and should suggest the next project, where the objective could be about “raising the profit margin for the food truck business from 10 to 30 percent”. And we repeat the process.
By setting OKRs, breaking down large pieces of the project into manageable components, getting feedback from our stakeholders as we go, and knowing when to be done, we can manage our expectations for any project going forward and accomplish more in the long run.