By nature of their work, some teams are blessed with metrics that are constantly observable and measurable. Marketing is one of these lucky teams. They can test Initiatives and quickly measure the impact of those efforts. If progress isn’t seen, then they can test out other Initiatives. For example, if a new landing page isn’t delivering the improvements in conversion rate needed to achieve a Key Result, you can quickly make changes to the page to see if your changes produce better results in the coming days or week.
But what happens for other teams when their outcome isn’t measurable until the end of the quarter?
This can happen with migrations, new product launches, and building new processes or skills. I often get asked, “How then can I show progress for these during the quarter?” Yes, you’ll be working on Initiatives, but the Objective progress is dependent only on the Key Results. The Objective will then be 0% achieved, usually for the entire time period, until it’s possible to observe any change in the metrics.
Introducing lead metrics
The good news is that there usually are leading metrics that you can use for your Key Results. While lag metrics are usually the best indicators of success for your Objective, lead metrics make sure you’re headed in the right direction.
For example, when you’re learning to drive a car, the best measurement of success would be of course the Key Result “Drivers license achieved”. This contains, however, a lag metric (you will only get feedback after your drivers exam). To keep you on track throughout the quarter, you can create an additional Key Result with a metric such as “Number of interventions per lesson ≤ 2”, which contains a lead metric (you get feedback directly after each driving lesson).
Lead metrics kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, they make sure you’re headed in the right direction, and prevent you from discovering at the end of the quarter that you’re not going to achieve your Objective. On the other hand, they enable you to see actual progress throughout the quarter, which is highly motivating for the people working on the OKR.
Here are a few examples of how you can show progress using lead metrics in your Key Results:
I often see goals that aim to teach a team a new process or skill. Say for instance, you’re the only person who can execute a certain task and this creates a backlog that slows down the process. You plan to create documentation and deliver a presentation, but those are Initiatives. Ideally, you’ll want the Key Result to measure the increased efficiency of having others able to do the task. It can take a while to actually observe a real world situation, so give a mock task or test to validate that the information delivered was understood. You can have a leading Key Result for the pass rate. Then, as the team has the opportunity to work on a real task, you can measure if distributing the ability has decreased the turnaround time.
O: Our team can wear more hats
KR: 100% team pass test (leading)
KR: Reduce time to complete task from 1 week to 2 days
Often launching a new product or completing a migration has clear intentions. It takes time though to get to the opportunity to see if the product or migration made the intended impact. For example, the Engineering team is releasing a Recommendations Engine. We won’t know until after this new functionality is released if it’s truly amazing based on the client feedback and use of the recommendations. These are great Key Results, but you can’t measure them until the end of the quarter. To demonstrate progress, you can have a Key Result for some of the interim testing results. For example, results during beta testing will signal whether or not the feature is ready to move on to the next step.
O: Release an amazing Recommendations Engine
KR: X% reliability during beta testing (leading)
KR: X% positive client feedback
KR: X% clicks on recommendations
Some goals require approvals along the way from an outside source. For instance, there’s a lot of due diligence that needs to happen before you can acquire a new company. Signed contracts and regulatory approvals are a good way to validate this progress. While they might not be the end goal, they are required to move along and involve a third party to sign. Use the accepted offer and regulatory approval as leading Key Results, with the ultimate Key Result of acquiring the company.
O: Expand our footprint through acquisition
KR: Offer accepted (leading)
KR: Regulatory approval (leading)
KR: Acquire 1 company
Here’s another example. You’re currently selling your shirts online, direct to your customers. You’d like to expand your reach by selling your shirts in brick and mortar stores. The first step is to get stores to agree to carry your merchandise. Without their approval, you won’t have the opportunity to offer your shirts to their customers. Their agreement indicates that they also think your shirts could be a good fit, so it’s a good leading Key Result to provide that initial validation that you’re on the right track. Once your shirts are offered in their stores, you’ll ultimately know if this channel is successful if their customers are buying your merchandise.
O: Retail is a viable channel for our shirts
KR: Get our shirts into 3 stores (leading)
KR: Sell 80% of our first order in the 1st week
It’s not always easy to find the perfect Key Results. Keep the final, desired outcome in mind – it’s what will give you the ultimate confirmation of success. Adding incremental Key Results will also help communicate that progress is being made during the quarter.