Incremental OKRs – stop being busy & start being successful

by Roger Longden | Mar 21, 2019

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Going a bit “micro” with this blog, but it’s worth it

It goes directly to the quality of the key results you create and the outcomes you aim for.

First, let’s just be clear on the qualities which make up a good key result:

  • Clear
  • Measurable
  • Unambiguous

Now the easy trap I see people fall into (especially in their early days of OKRs) is to set a “binary” KR where you either do/don’t achieve your outcome.  They are easy to write so you can get your OKRs created in a flash!  However, you’ll regret it, I promise you.

If you own a binary KR, you’ll very quickly come to realise that while you might be making good progress you can’t actually report that yet as the KR has been set up to reflect either 0% or 100% attainment, with nothing in between. This means four things:

  • You’re likely to feel rather frustrated that you can’t show progress
  • Any senior team reviewing progress can’t see the full picture
  • It makes it difficult to plan for the next period as a KR might be at 0% until the last week then go straight to 100%
  • There’s no room for a stretch!

Also, in reality, it’s only about 1% of the time where a binary KR is justified – e.g. when you need a certification to be able to sell a new service.

So, what’s the answer?

Incremental Key Results

Particularly when there is no metric available to help you measure an increase from X to Y, incremental KRs help to break down progress and aid reporting.  I find it works well to define what your 100% is first – i.e. the impact you need to see and then work back from there.  NOTE: this should be done when creating your KR. 


Objective: to be the most feared power in the galaxy

KR: To have blown up 1 planet using our new Death Star by the end of the quarter

80% attainment: Death Star is signed off by Darth Vader as fully operational

60% attainment: Death Star systems testing is complete

40% attainment: Death Star construction complete

20% attainment: Death Star designs approved and contractors appointed

Notice the difference between 80% and 100%?  80% represents the work being completed and 100% is the outcome/impact you need to see to know it’s worked.

One final question on the subject of outcomes: what if you can’t get to the outcome within the current quarter?  What if the Death Star is going to take more than one quarter to build and blow up its first planet?

I get asked this a lot and yes, I see it’s a valid challenge (well, not the Death Star bit).  My recommendation is to set a milestone for your 100% in this quarter, but also set a KR which requires you to define the KR which will measure the outcome for the next quarter.  This means it shouldn’t drop off your radar. 

To strive for outcome/impact is the difference between being busy and being successful.