Personal OKRs

Photo credit: Orion Pictures/Everett Collection

When I looked out of my Berlin-Mitte office window, I could see Max waving from the Zalando lounge. Although we worked just across the street, we barely manage to see each other in person more than once a year.

We’ve known each other since we were little kids: Our grandparents were neighbors, so we would spend the summers together building tree houses and playing tag around the garden. Later, we would play Counterstrike in his grandma’s garage, drinking 25 cent-beers from plastic bottles. The good times.

Last week, we managed to meet for lunch, and over some Five-Guys-Burgers we talked about work life, Bill and Ted, Burnout syndrome and how he got engaged just recently. Max told me how he spent his new years eve with his fiancé: The two of them were relaxing at home and thinking about the next year. He pulled out a Spreadsheet on his computer, and they started creating an OKR list for 2019.

Wait for Hoschi, you are using OKRs - that’s pretty cool! Do you have some experience with that previously?

Yes – I have been doing OKRs for a while at work, but now is the first time I have been trying it out for my private life.

How come?

Let me tell you a story about that: I got exposed to the concept of OKRs when a new VP started at Zalando. He had worked at Google before, so obviously he is a bit of a Google Fanboy. Of course, he was pushing to introduce OKRs to our company. At first, I couldn’t get it, you spend a lot of time just sitting together, talking about goals and visions. This all seemed like a big waste of time to me. After a while, though I realized how having the objectives written down would help me focus on what I wanted to achieve, and especially how it makes my work life much more transparent to me and my colleagues - short-term and long-term. At Zalando, we do different sets of OKRs, usually team OKRs for the next 6 months, business units for next year and broader visions for the next 5 years.

That is a lot. When I was working as Head of Product Marketing in the Marketing and Operations Department at Wooga, we did one set of OKRs per team and one for the whole department which we would evaluate and renew every 3-4 month. It sure takes a lot of time, we sometimes spent several weeks nailing them down, which can be a pain in the ass. But it also helps you to form a shared vision within the team and explain to everyone outside what you are working on right now, what is moving you.

But there is also the downsides: some people in teams (not mine) use OKRs to hide behind them: “I can’t help you with that now, I have to work on the things defined in my OKRs now – come back in 3 months”. Denying work because it is not on the list, that should not happen.

Yes, that is a good sign that the OKRs aren’t well defined. They should be inclusive and cover unexpected tasks as well, especially if you work in a service team. They should not block you off for a few months – or you simply need to have more OKRs …

We usually do 3-5, but never more. Defining more OKRs will result in you losing the overview. For my private goals in 2019 for examples, I have set 4 objectives.

I have been using the «Annual Review» technique by Chris Guillebeau this year, which I really enjoyed doing. It, however, resulted in a very long list of goals, ordered by segments like health, finance or family relations. I find that very inspiring, but also hard to manage. Doing four objectives at the time seems like a good idea. Which did you set?

My four objectives are also set by segment in a way: Improving my relationships with family and friends, improving my health, home improvement and turning my apartment into a smart home and living a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly life. The key results for that would be something like: recycle more, separate my trash, try to reduce my meat consumption, buy less cheap stuff.

How many key results should you have? I usually do a 3×3 matrix: 3 objectives, 3 key results. Having more though help rating them, right?

You are referring to the objective rating scale between zero and one, right? The easy trick is to have 10 key results per objective so that every fulfilled key result is 0.1 on that scale. If you have reached seven out of ten key results, you get a score of 0.7.

Which is, according to Jake Knapp, the perfect OKR scoring.

At my company, we are using only 0.3, 0.7 and 1.0. If you hit 0.3, you underdeliver on your goals. A score of 0.7 means you achieved what you planned, and reaching 1.0 is like landing a moonshot – when you accidentally invent the next iPhone when working your goals.

In my private life, I set different levels. Take for example the goal of improving the relationship to my grandma: 0.3 would be the equivalent to calling my grandma on a weekly basis, 0.7 is when I visit her and 1.0 is when I manage to take her out on a weekend trip.

If you want to learn more about OKRs and personal goal setting, check my other post, How to Turn Your New Year’s Resolutions Into Goals. And of course, follow me on Twitter: @johannesippen.

Johannes Ippen
About the Author

Johannes Ippen is a designer from Berlin, passionate about French punk rock, really strong espresso and writing about design. Follow him on Twitter for more of design-related essays. Full bio →