Managing design work has never been easy. Managers speak the language of metrics and deadlines, while designers speak the language of… well, design. Therefore, creative tasks are harder to fit in classical systems of project management.
Establishing clear indicators for design team is not as clear as it is for sales team, for instance. However, it doesn’t mean that the OKR system doesn’t work for them.
As a UI/UX design agency, we can say that creative team needs a special approach. Defining clear metrics for design efficiency measurement is of personal interest for us. It’s evident that some management methods that work for developers will not work well for designers. However, few methods have proven to be quite universal and thus can be successfully applied to different team within the company. One of them is OKRs (Objectives and Key Results).
This system works for both big companies and small startups. As it is quite simple, there is little barrier to trying it. To make things easier for you, we made this guide on implementing OKRs in product design, including some design OKR examples.
So, what is OKR?
It seems like a pretty basic formula, but to get why it became so paramount, you have to understand how revolutionary it was in the 70s. It was defying the centuries-long tradition of the hierarchical system of goal setting.
In the OKR framework, it is not the top manager who decides what everybody else does and what the objectives and KPIs are. All team members are involved in the process of setting OKRs. Such an approach enables one to avoid a single-perspective view of the objectives.
The system of OKRs was invented in the 70s by Andy Grove, the CEO of Intel. John Doerr, who used to work with Grove, became a true evangelist of OKRs and spread the wisdom all over the world. Since then, lots of top companies, including Google and Spotify, use the system.
John Doerr is such a fan of OKRs that he applied them even to his family life, trying to get home by 6 PM 20 nights a month to have dinner with the family (key results) in order to have a happy family (objective).
What's more, in 2018, he wrote a whole book about OKRs management methodology called "Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs", which received positive reviews from Bill Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, and Larry Page. You can read our article for a fast grasp and then decide whether you would like to go deeper with the book.
Where to start?
As John Doerr says, the OKRs should start with WHY. Why are you doing what you are doing? What is the main purpose of the company? Until you understand that purpose you can hardly create real objectives.
After that, define objectives. Objectives should be aligned with the purpose, but also be more specific and focused on current events. There are three tips that can help you with that.
Make objectives simple and clear
The objective of OKR should be short and easy to remember. Leave the SMART goals system aside, as OKRs can be a bit abstract and idealistic. Just pick something that speaks to you, without formalities. If it is "provide damn good user experience", it's fine.
Be ambitious with goals
Making feasible goals is good, but managers of Google recommend that you make some of the OKRs a bit more ambitious. They call it moon shooting. Overall, the goals are not expected to be met at 100%. Most successful companies consider 70% a good result — remember that you’ll still land among the stars.
Don’t carve it in stone
Remember that objectives can be changed along the way if you realize that they don’t work well or that the situation has changed and they lost sense. OKRs methodology is made for the fast-changing modern business environment, so flexibility is a must.
Setting key results
Once the objective is set, it is time to move to key results. The results should be aligned with the objective and measurable. You can check our list of design metrics to give you an idea of how design results can be measured. However, before picking some of them to insert in OKRs, think of how you will collect the data.
Before setting key results, think of whether you can establish a system of measurement and track all of them. If you don't have any experience with design metrics, maybe your first OKR can be about establishing such a system?
Here are some tips on how to make a good set of key results:
- Don’t make too many. Three to five is a good number. Having too many will disperse your focus.
- Make them specific and measurable.
- Make key results realistic (even if the objective is shooting the moon)
The question that you should ask when setting key results is:
What are the main things that have to happen in a given time period to make the objective come true?
Golden rules of OKRs
You know that when the idea looks simple, the devil is in the details. You can’t just copy-paste your existing goals and KPIs into the formula and make it work. OKRs are the system and there is a set of rules that make it so efficient.
Limit the number of OKRs
Once you get into OKRs, you may start setting a dozen of them to cover all the aspects of the product design process. However, having too many will play against you. One of the main jobs of OKRs is to make a clear focus on current priorities. Fifteen objectives can not be prioritized equally, so start slow and keep the focus on what is really important.
Don’t tie them to rewards
Unlike KPIs, OKRs should never define the size of compensation. If team members know that their salaries and bonuses depend on OKRs, they will end up setting less ambitious but more “secure” objectives and results. The system is there to help the employees, not to create additional pressure.
Set the right time period
Different companies set OKRs from one week to a year. There is no general rule, however, quarterly periods are probably the most common. Also, there can be different cycles of OKR in one company. Just make sure there are no ten different deadlines.
Separate tactic and strategic objectives
Strategic OKRs are set at the company level and typically have longer cycles. Tactic OKRs are set at the team level and can have shorter cycles. A good idea is to set these two in a way that they would coincide regularly: for example, 3-monthly and 2-monthly OKRs would meet every six months, while 4-month and 5-month would only meet once every two years.
Product design OKRs examples
Objective: Integrate UX research into standard work process
— Run a brainstorming session to define the most relevant UX research methods and metrics
— Have weekly team meetings on UX research to adjust the strategy
— Recruit ten users for testing
— Develop UX research strategy and plan for the following six months
Objective: Make users addicted to the product
— user engagement score increased by 30%
— average session time increased by 20%
— churn rate decreased by 15%
Objective: Create a distinct visual style of the product
— Develop 3 versions of visual style
— Run A/B testing to choose the best one
— Create stylebook
— Create a UI library
Tools for tracking OKRs
In the beginning, it is best to use something that you are familiar with. Just creating a new G-Suite sheet, a page in Notion, or adding a new poster to the pinboard can be a good start on the OKRs way.
If you feel that these options lack functionality or you prefer using different management software, there are some that are tailored to the OKRs framework.
One of them is Tability, a product that allows you to track OKRs regularly, get reminders, visualize the progress, add tasks, and communicate with your colleagues about objectives and results. Here is how OKRs look in Tability.
The alternative OKR tools are Koan, Weekdone, and Perdoo. Weekdone claims that it can replace weekly stand-ups as the app would document all the team progress.
Some planning software like Asana have a built-in feature that facilitates tracking OKRs and aligning them with smaller tasks. Check if your favorite work management tool offers a solution that streamlines OKRs tracking, and if they do, look no further.
If you are starting with OKRs and are looking for a free tool with guidelines, check this starter kit from "Measure What Matters" by John Doerr.
Hopefully this article convinced you that OKRs are suitable for both design team and the company as a whole. Even when key results are hard to define, there are ways to establish effective goals. As a design agency, we know that UX design KPIs and usability metrics are real. Therefore, OKRs would work for design team as well as they do for sales, customer success, and others.
If you plan to introduce new methods like OKRs to increase your team’s efficiency, you might also find interesting our article How to Manage a Design Team: 5 Tips Based on True Stories.