How to Use Google’s OKR Framework to Prioritize Your Product Roadmap

If you haven’t found the right objective goal-setting framework for setting roadmap prioritization, consider Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). The OKR framework was popularized by Google, which attributes much of its success to this goal-setting model. Google has used OKRs (objectives and key results) since the beginning when they had only a few dozen employees. Although not designed for product roadmaps, in particular, the OKR model has a lot to offer product teams. (Besides, we had you at “popularized by Google,” didn’t we?)

Let’s discuss what the OKR framework is, why many successful companies have adopted it, and how your team can use this approach to improve your product strategy and drive an OKR roadmap.

What is the OKR framework?

Objectives and key results, or OKRs, are a model for setting business goals and trackable outcomes. The “O” represents objectives (high-level goals) and the “KR” represents measurable key results.

person presenting a strategy on a whiteboard with post it notes

OKRs give teams a structure for creating ambitious, quantifiable objectives and measuring progress toward them. Your team should also get together and review your OKRs frequently. You want to see how your team is progressing toward these goals. One of the major advantages of the OKR methodology is it helps keep cross-functional teams aligned on and accountable for the organization’s priorities.

Let’s look at an example of objectives and key results (OKRs) in action. The following is a real-world OKR, which Google’s Niket Desai included in his primer on the OKR framework.

Objective: Increase Quorum user base

Key Results:

  • Increase per-day views to 1,000
  • Total monthly uniques 45,000

Owners: Niket, Matt

The Key Parts of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

OKRs differ from company to company, but you’ll want to make sure yours have the following characteristics (or at least most of them):

  • Use numbers to make the Key Results portion of your OKRs measurable.
  • Tie your OKRs to larger company goals.
  • Draft your OKRs as short, clear statements (try to make them easy to memorize).
  • Make your OKRs ambitious and even out of your team’s comfort zone.
  • Assign each Key Result (KR) an owner.
  • Create a standard scoring system to measure your OKRs’ outcomes.
  • Explain to your team that your OKRs are stretch goals and failing to achieve them won’t get anyone into trouble.

Note: Google uses a 0.0 to 1.0 score to measure performance on it’s OKR. Google allegedly aims to achieve a .6 to .7 across all of its OKRs. You can devise any scoring system you’d like—percentages, letter grades, etc.

Keep in mind that hitting your OKR stretch goals 100% of the time could signal you haven’t set ambitious enough objectives.

Benefits of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

The OKR approach offers many strategic advantages, so we will discuss just a few of the more important ones.

OKRs align individual team members’ tasks around a shared strategic goal.

When created and communicated the right way, OKRs help gives cross-functional teams clear shared objectives to aim for. This can help everyone stay focused and continuously review their own tasks to make sure they align with larger objectives.

Objectives and key results can boost employee engagement.

Lack of team enthusiasm on a project can slow productivity and prevent team members from doing their best work. This often happens when employees don’t understand the purpose of their tasks. A set of shared OKRs can help everyone understand how their day-to-day to-do items support the key results the company has set for itself.

OKRs foster team collaboration and chemistry.

Because they involve high-level, strategic objectives requiring the contributions of several departments, OKRs can help create a greater sense of teamwork and support across the company.

Objectives and key results can make cross-functional teams more agile.

Many people describe OKRs as an agile framework, which makes sense. If a company sets multiyear objectives, it will likely spend more time going down the wrong path before realizing the need to course-correct. But by setting short-term objectives and measuring the outcomes each quarter, a company can more quickly adjust priorities and reallocate resources if needed.

How to Use OKRs for Product Roadmap Prioritization

As you might have noticed, OKRs have a lot in common with both the structure and the strategic purposes of a product roadmap.

strategic chess game with two players while drinking coffee

An OKR’s objective section should read like a roadmap theme or epic. It should be a short, clear statement of a high-level goal such as, “Improve the trial-download process for users.” Where a roadmap might include user stories to explain how a team will complete that epic, an OKR roadmap will include key results describing how to measure success in accomplishing the objective.

Examples of key results might include, “Increase trial downloads by 20%,” or “Improve our ‘Trial download was easy’ score on user surveys by 35%.”

Note: You can’t overlook this second component of an OKR—the key results your team will establish to measure its success. As explained in this UserVoice article on OKRs for product teams, “On their own, objectives are not measurable results.”

Read Feature-less Roadmaps: Unlock Your Product's Strategic Potential➜

Turn user needs or problems into OKR objectives.

As the former product lead for Google Maps, Gannon Hall, explains, the OKR framework makes for a helpful approach to product planning. A product team can turn user needs or problems into objectives and develop key results as metrics to address those issues.

Make the objectives from your OKRs into the default strategic themes on your product roadmap.

When you start thinking using the OKR framework, you’ll find your team’s focus should not be on building features but instead on accomplishing objectives.

In fact, as Gannon Hall argues, “Executives should only care about a product team’s OKRs. What [your team plans] to build should be of little interest, as the features themselves are simply a means to an end…”

When you establish an OKRs and use objectives for your roadmap (again, think of this as a theme or epic), you have a built-in mechanism—devising metric-based key results—for both breaking that objective into smaller, more manageable goals, and for assessing on a regular basis whether or not your team is succeeding.

Read the Product Roadmaps Guide ➜

Review OKRs detailed on the roadmap with your cross-functional team regularly.

After your team has decided on a set of OKRs for your  OKR roadmap, pull everyone together regularly to check the progress of each objective’s key results. This will help make sure everyone continues working toward your agreed-upon priorities and give you early warning signs if the objectives you’ve set were too ambitious.

As we noted in our 2018 Product Planning Report, successful product teams typically update their roadmaps every week. In other words, the team check-ins that work with the OKR framework also match up with most product teams’ preferred cadence to discuss their roadmaps.

Download My Product Manager's Guide to Prioritization  ➜

Use Objectives and Key Results to Inform your Next Roadmap Update

The format and purpose of an OKR’s objective have a lot in common with the typical roadmap theme or epic. That means you can give this approach a try without causing much disruption to your process.

The next time you are reviewing your product roadmap and figuring out which new epics to add to your strategic plan, take the OKR approach. Establish a major product objectively and draft it as a short, simple statement. Then create a few key results to measure the outcomes of your work toward that objective. Remember to make these key results quantifiable, so you have an easier time scoring your progress.

If this process works for your product team, start replacing more of your traditional themes with objectives and key results.

Want to start building your own strategic roadmap? Read the Strategic Roadmap Planning Guide