Objectives and Key Results (OKR): How to implement the #1 goal setting framework in Asana


#1

Hi Community,

We all work a lot with and in Asana. But before working on any project, it is very important to clarify what the objectives are to actually judge if the project you want to work on will help to reach this objective and if perhaps another project will help more and should consequently be higher priority.

I gonna talk about the following aspects:

  1. What are Objectives and Key Results (OKR)?
  2. Why you should use OKR for goal setting?
  3. History of OKR
  4. How to write OKR?
  5. Implementation of OKR in Asana

1) What are Objectives and Key Results (OKR)?

Objectives and Key Results (OKR) is a framework of defining and tracking objectives and their outcomes. It seeks to ensure employees work together and focus their efforts to make measurable contributions. The main goal of OKR is to define company and team objectives along with the measurable key results that define achievement of each objective.

2) Why you should use OKR for goal setting?
OKRs are used by numerous very successful companies for instance Google. OKRs can foster longer-term thinking and the discipline of planning before taking action. For the assignee, putting goals in writing also clarifies expectations and enables open measurement of progress and definition of success. They also support cross-functional communication when shared across the organization so that teams have visibility into goals across every department, helping to align and focus efforts. Moreover, it dramatically increases the transparency, since usually more than half of a company workforce cannot name the top three company objectives.
Last but not least, the OKR are easier to understand than normal goals since you have a clear qualitative objective and a clear and measurable quantitative key result. Many traditional goals mix this up, and some people within the organization are not able to understand it, imagine the KPIs your engineering team has …

3) History of OKR

Peter Drucker was the first one who made Management by Objectives (MBO) popular. Later John Doerr developed the concept further into OKR and introduced it at Intel. Later he introduced it at Google where it became very popular. This is also the reason why many people belief that OKRs were invented at Google.
Nowadays, there are even SaaS companies like Perdoo who develop software just to track OKRs. From my point of view, this software has no features yet which justifies the additional costs, since you can track your OKRs also in Asana and have the advantage of having everything in one tool :slight_smile:

4) How to write OKR?
I will now describe how OKR are defined and how you can write your own.

Objective: Is a qualitative goal, for a set period of time, usually a quarter.

Key Result: Is a quantitative metric used to measure if the objective has been met by the end of the period.
But to define objectives your company first needs a vision!

See the connection in this example:

Company-wide publication of drafted OKRs or presentation including Q&A can assure cross-functional alignment and agreement on dependencies before finalization. Especially at the end of a goal period, an assessment of each key result per goal and its accomplishment should happen.
See in the following picture how the quarterly OKRs are derived from the vision.

To define your OKRs you basically need to ask yourself these three questions:

Question 0. you need to ask even before would be “What is your vision”. Once defined write it down.
Question 1. is your objective.
Question 2. are your key results.
Question 3 are the projects and action items.

Some more detailed help to distinguish objectives, key results and action items from the company Perdoo (key actions/ projects):

5) Implementation of OKRs in Asana

This is my suggestion of implementing OKRs in Asana. I would be very happy if you share your ideas and thoughts so that we can improve together.

Please take a look at the picture below and my explanations.

It all starts with a project dedicated to your OKRs, I prefer to call it Roadmap. The objective tasks can still exist via multi-homing in the projects and roadmaps of the different departments but I strongly recommend to have this Overall Company Roadmap, because people need to have everything at one view. Some people might suggest an advanced search to collect all OKRs from different projects, but I found many people are not familiar with advanced search. And I want it to be as easy as possible for my company employees to see the OKRs.

I have sections for the different time periods, the closer to the present day, the shorter they are. Especially in the current and following year I use quarterly sections. Feel free to also use monthly sections, but I do not want to be too granular, otherwise I find myself shifting objectives through the sections every months :slight_smile: And I always ask myself what are the advantages of additional details? Do they justify the effort?

It all starts with the vision, which is the first task of the project. I use these parentheses [[ … ]] to indicate this is the vision.

The vision task looks like this:

I defined several custom fields especially for the Key Results. But let us continue with the objectives first. So every objective is a subtask of the vision, since the objective is derived from the vision. I use again parentheses [ …] but only one, to indicate this task is an objective.
The objectives themselves are inside the roadmap again:

You can do this with the shortcut Tab-P. Afterwards I shift the objective task to the time section when I want to achieve this objective.

The objectives should have an assignee of course. Since I personally like the Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) framework, which says there can only be one person overall responsible for the objective, it is nice that Asana allows only one assignee per task :slight_smile:

As mentioned I collect the measurable and quantitative Key Results in the custom fields. This has the advantages that I do not mix it up with objectives and I can use Custom Fields very good to compare and sort by Key Results.

I personally prefer one [Key Result] custom field where I can write whatever I want. Moreover, I have a special custom field for Key Results which might apply for many objectives like Revenue/month. Last but not least I have a custom field to track the progress in %. This field is also used to assess the success in the end of the time period and to say how much bonus is paid or much champagne will be bought :slight_smile: OF course you can add more details about the process of the objective in the comment section.
You can choose on your own which of the custom fields you would like to have displayed in the project overview! IF you do the quarterly assessment it makes sense to display the custom field for % reached.

See a filled version:

Later if you have more detailed objectives, for instance for your marketing department, you can add the sub-objectives for this department as subtasks inside the original objective to have a clear view how these objectives are connected and derived from each other.

Since I love Mindmapping and the new version of Mindjet Mindmanager allows to send items to Asana as task, I will evaluate this solution in the future, since I find it very beneficial to have an overview of your objectives in a visual form :slight_smile:

Alternative OKR Asana setup I found:

I found an old presentation from the Asana engineering team (2014):

The advantage is clearly that if the KR is a task, there can be an assignee, on the other side it might be more difficult to distinguish between objectives and key results at first glance. Moreover, if there is one person responsible for the objective he is automatically responsible for the Key Results.

Thanks for reading so far, your feedback is very welcome! If you liked the article please give me a heart and leave a comment with your view on OKRs and the implementation in Asana.

@Todd_Cavanaugh and @paulminors, I am especially curious how your clients handle OKRs inside of Asana - what are the pros and cons of different implementation you have seen?
@Alexis, how is Asana handling OKRs nowadays in Asana?

Best,
Sebastian


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#2

Good stuff, @Sebastian_Paasch. I handle OKRs a little bit differently, incorporating tags a bit to enable reporting on Objectives and Key Results separately.

Because I make a living teaching others about Asana, I keep some of my best material inside the Asana Training Masterclass which is a paid course for businesses that want to learn Asana and have employees onboard themselves. In this case, I have a whole lesson dedicated to tracking OKRs in Asana.


#3

Wow. Great post @Sebastian_Paasch.


#4

@Sebastian_Paasch We’re implementing that system and your post gave me an awesome framework for communicating it in the company and using asana to keep everything nice & clean. Everyone is now very excited and enjoying to the organizational & management improvement! Keep doing, what you’re doing :wink:


#5

Hey @Sebastian_Paasch, I will start implementing OKRs here very soon as well. Thank you so much for the post, it gives me a good headstart on figuring out how our OKRs are set up in Asana the best!


#6

@Sebastian_Paasch this is one of the BEST post I’ve seen here on the community! Well done!!! I’m curious though, you don’t like any of the currently existing OKR software integrations with Asana instead of going through all that? http://okrsoftware.com/

Seems to me like like either BetterWorks, WeekDone, or 7Geese will be pretty competitive by the end of 2017 for Asana reporting/integration of the OKR framework?


#7

Hi Sam,
Thanks for the feedback, always good to hear if it helps someone.
So far, no integration has really convinced me.
And thanks for the website, I did not know this overview.

From my point of view and many dicussions with other Asana users it is important to:

  1. Have as few tools as possible, but as many as necessary --> if an integration does not provide significant added value, I do not add it, because every tool increases complexity a lot and makes it harder for people. For me it is important to make Asana as easy as possible for its users, that they really like to work with it, also people who are no digital natives.

  2. Make it as transparent as possible: If all the OKRs are directly in Asana and moreover also in the different projects as reminder, it is much more likely that team members will act on it, and this is most important

But I am very open for feedback. Do you use one of these extensions? What is the added value for you exactly?


#8

No I don’t use any of them now @Sebastian_Paasch but doing heavy research which is why I’m asking. At first I thought BetterWorks was my choice but then found out it’s $19,000 USD (hahaha) so now it’s between WeekDone or 7Geese.

We touched on not only OKR’s but other high-level views/features needed here - A better Dashboard for high level overview


#9

@Sebastian_Paasch love this post. I’m very new to roadmapping our objectives. We know them but have never strategically planned them out.

Why are there subtask objectives in the vision task but also objectives in the quarters sections? Are they not all working towards the same vision?


#10

This is the reason why the objectives are sub-tasks of the vision - to indicate that everything pays into the vision, every single task from every team member :unicorn:


#11

@Sebastian_Paasch If you use a “Custom Field” how do you know which KR is done? after all you could have a few KR’s for each objective (BTW this article help me greatly)


#12

I use another custom field where I track the progress in %, if done completely it is 100%.
Of course you can also use sub-tasks for your KR, but many people found it better to use Custom Fields.

Best


#13

So they are duplicates? When one is completed does the assignee have to check both matching tasks?


#14

@Sebastian_Paasch This is a fantastic, and easy to implement, structure for setting up and tracking our OKRs in Asana. Just what I was looking for — thanks!

I’ll need to re-read the post a few times to squeeze all the ideas and value out of it, but I think your comments hit on the major reasons it’ll work for our use case. We are new to the OKR framework and currently just piloting it within our Digital Team. Similarly, Asana usage started as a bit of a skunkworks at our organization, but now has serious (leadership) momentum behind it now and we’re ramping up the plans to expand it across the company.

While OKRs will be a little behind that process (whether or not they ever become org-wide), I love the points you’ve made here around simplifying the tool-stack and ensuring that above all, the transparency remains a top priority. That’s the whole point of OKRs — ensuring others are aware of where your energy and focus is, as well as driving accountability.

I love this kind of crowd-sourcing to help one another realize the potential of such an open-end platform as Asana, before doubling down on 3rd party integrations and increasing the complexity of your team’s workflow. That is a good pitfall to be mindful of for exactly the reasons you’ve stated here.

Well done.


#15

Thankfully no. And I did notice that @Sebastian_Paasch’s original post glossed over this unique and powerful Asana feature, which I have been using for a while.

Basically, within one project it’s possible to list a single task as both a task in the highest-level project list… and a subtask of another task in that list. I’ve made a quick screencast to show this in action:


#16

@pbiolsi Thank you. I’ve actually used that feature to share tasks across projects but never thought to share a task within a project. Very helpful!


#17

@Sebastian_Paasch Ok I just set everything up Asana and I’m ready to dominate! HOWEVER, now I’ve come to the part about reporting or direct measuring of KR’s (like Google’s 0-1 scale w/ one decimal place) and I’m realizing if I use the “% Progress” custom field like you have then I can’t see it on the dashboard or any reports, correct? :frowning:

Do you have any ideas for me as to how I might, using this OKR model, get quantitative reporting on progression of KR’s and Objectives?

@pbiolsi would love to now you’re thoughts as well on this! :slight_smile:


#18

@Eyal_Ronel Would love to see how/if DoMetrix plays into the OKR framework?


#19

Hi Sam,

Thanks for your feedback and questions.

You do not see it in the Asana dashboard that is correct, but with data stored in Custom Fields you can do everything you want. You can export it to a spreadsheet and build charts on the data there. Moreover, I am sure there are reporting plugins which can use Custom Field data and create charts automatically, if not yet, you could send a message to the reporting plug in developer of your choice like @Eyal_Ronel and perhaps they can integrate it in their dashboards.

Best


#20

Thanks for tagging my @Sebastian_Paasch :wink:
I would be happy to follow up with you about what Itai and I have been up to. I’ll email you soon!

@Sam_Leahey and I have previously discussed a few topics regarding better reporting as part of what I’m working on. We’ll be announcing something new very soon. stay tuned :slight_smile: