It’s tempting for teams to represent everything they’re doing in their OKRs. The reality is that OKR serves a special purpose. It ensures that you’re prioritizing work that has the biggest business impact. If you have too many OKRs, you lose a sense of focus, making it more difficult to manage and organize your efforts.
Having too many OKRs can undermine the purpose of the framework. We typically recommend setting a maximum of 3-5 OKRs per team per quarter. This is a maximum, not a minimum – it’s perfectly appropriate to have only 1-2 OKRs. What matters most is that you don’t pick a number and then let that dictate how many goals you need to achieve within the given timeframe. Instead, let what’s most important and most urgent guide you.
To ensure you’re focusing on what truly matters, Perdoo gives a subtle warning when you’ve set too many OKRs.
Here’s why you may have too many OKRs, and what to do about it:
Business as usual
OKR is about breaking the status quo. You’re doing something different and either building, improving or innovating. On the other hand, if you have established processes that you’re executing, then this is your business as usual. Business as usual work is best represented as KPIs.
As long as that KPI is healthy, it signals that the team is operating smoothly. If that KPI turns unhealthy though, or if you want to take it to another level, then this can inspire an OKR.
For example, the Marketing team monitors the Unique Visitor to Lead Conversion rate on the website. The target is to keep it above 7%. Since it’s currently at 8%, all of the existing processes to maintain it there are the business as usual. If the metric drops to 4% though, then the team needs to do something differently to get it back on track. This is when they would create an OKR for these special efforts.
Some teams, like Sales and support functions, are naturally KPI-driven, which means that their capacity to participate in OKRs is limited. These teams may either have fewer OKRs, none at all, or simply support Objectives owned by other teams through Initiatives. That’s ok! The work that they do is essential to keeping the lights on.
Nice to have
OKR should represent your most urgent priorities that you need to do now. If it’s not urgent, then it shouldn’t be an OKR.
A great exercise is to answer the following questions, “Why is it important?” and “Why is it urgent?”. Satisfying these two conditions helps to validate that you’re working on the right goals. If you can’t confidently answer these two questions, then it’s not the time to work on that goal. Place it in a parking lot for future consideration.
OKRs should communicate the outcomes and problems you’re trying to solve. I often see large projects represented as OKRs.
If the Objective doesn’t communicate why, then it’s likely an Initiative. An Initiative is a means to an end, work that you’re completing to make an impact. If you find that many of your Objectives are actually Initiatives, there may be an opportunity to consolidate them into one outcome-oriented Objective. Especially if you find that multiple projects serve the same purpose.
For example, the team has had a few phishing incidents that have led to compromises in their data security. The Objectives, Develop security training material, Complete security guidebook and Implement new security protocols are not actually Objectives. When you ask why for all of these efforts, the goal is to actually Strengthen the Security Culture. Developing security training material, completing the security guidebook and implementing the new security protocols are all Initiatives with the intended benefit of having confidence that these incidents will not occur going forward.
When it comes to OKRs, less is more. It’s important to create focus and organize your goals in the best way possible. That way, you don’t have unnecessary noise and administrative overhead.
Business as usual should be monitored with KPIs, nice to haves should be excluded and projects should be tracked as Initiatives.