While OKR has proven to be an effective goal-setting strategy for all types, sizes, and scope of organizations, software development agencies happen to have a particularly outstanding track record. For years now, they’ve been using Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to strategically align their individual, team, and company-wide goals towards a unified direction of success.
Hence, it’s no surprise that some of the biggest OKR success stories to date come from companies that are widely renowned for software development.
Take, for example, Google – which was the very first company on the OKR bandwagon. After its 1999 induction by John Doerr – the godfather of OKRs – Google managed to make the best of the new goal-setting framework. The then startup used software developer OKRs to break down its big dreams into clear, manageable, measurable, and communicable goals.
The results have been quite remarkable, as Google has since grown from a 40-employee garage enterprise to a global giant worth trillions of dollars. It now boasts a software engineering workforce with over 27,000, who happen to still be running some of the best OKR examples for software development.
You too could use the same formula to drive growth in your software development company.
How to approach software developer OKRs
In the book “Measure What Matters”, John Doerr describes OKRs as a “simple idea”. But, make no mistake about it – this is not something to rush through.
You’ll notice, for instance, that many software engineers tend to confuse OKRs with KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) as well as various project management methodologies. Instead of pairing strategic goals with contextual tracking metrics, they end up blindly adopting a set of indefinite performance analytics.
Now, to help you avoid these common blunders, we’ll walk you through the process of creating and implementing effective software development OKRs. Then to top it all off, we’re throwing in 15 solid OKR examples for software development, each of which has been tried, tested, and proven.
It’s worth noting, however, that the featured OKRs for software engineers are not meant to be copied directly. Rather, you should use them as practical references while drafting custom OKRs that are unique to your company’s structure, mission, specialties, and growth goals.
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Tips for Creating Effective OKRs For Software Development
1. Set clear, qualitative objectives
The process of drawing up OKRs always begins with the first letter – “O” – which stands for “Objectives”.
Now, to be specific, objectives highlight what you aspire to achieve in the end. You can think of them as the principal purpose behind the company’s or team’s activities.
You see, each objective represents a specific goal, which is meant to bring value to your organization. And as you’ll see from the OKR examples for software development, such objectives use qualitative descriptions to outline the intended outcome of the whole exercise.
The description itself should be brief but clear and understandable. Try to keep it short and sweet with a concise expression of “what” you hope to accomplish. The best OKR examples for software development always come with objectives that are simple and clear enough to be interpreted by even outsiders.
2. Think big – but also keep it realistic and actionable
Don’t get us wrong, though. “Simple and clear”, in this case, doesn’t mean basic or bland. On the contrary, a good objective needs to be aggressive and inspirational, yet realistic and tangible. This is where you motivate software engineers in your company by thinking big, while also maintaining actionable guidelines.
You can always draw inspiration from your company’s overall mission statement and vision. They’ll help you come up with ideas that are perfectly in line with your company’s core philosophies and purpose.
Alternatively, you could consider challenges that you’re currently experiencing in the company, or maybe market opportunities that you’d like to exploit for growth.
Whichever you choose, you’re supposed to narrow down the options to about three to five solid objectives. Any more than that would complicate things for your software engineering teams. So, ensure that you get your priorities right before moving forward.
3. Break down each objective into quantitative key results
With the objectives laid out, you can proceed to the second part of OKRs, which is represented by the initials “KR”.
That, in full, stands for the “Key Results” that meant to quantify the overlying objectives. While an objective statement states the “what”, the accompanying Key Results define the “how” using measurable parameters.
This is where you break down the objectives into their quantifiable outcomes. A single objective should be accompanied by about two to five key results, each of which spells out a different set of performance metrics that ought to be achieved for the goal to be fulfilled.
Consider, for example, an objective like:
“Expand the software userbase”.
That is the “what” part, which outlines what to accomplish.
Key results, on the other hand, would come in to highlight the “how” in the form of trackable metrics – as a way of defining the formula to satisfy in order to achieve the goal.
So, if you intend to grow the software user base, you’d have key results like:
KR1: Reduce the monthly churn rate from 12% to 3%.
KR2: Increase the day-30 post-installation retention rate from 44% to 60%.
KR3: Raise the average conversion rate from 5% to 10%.
….and so forth.
4. Go for the seemingly impossible
Don’t feel compelled to always stick with realistic expectations when setting the metric limits.
If you check out Google’s OKR examples for software development, you’ll notice that the company tends to push its target key results beyond the standard expectations.
When targeting say, 5,000 new users, it wouldn’t exactly set a goal of “5,000”. The OKRs would, instead, lay out a “stretch goal” – increasing the number to 5,600.
The logic behind this, according to Google, is that it challenges team members to exceed expectations. Don Dodge, the company’s developer advocate, even insists that accomplishing 65% of the impossible is always better than 100% of the ordinary.
5. Align OKRs horizontally and vertically
A typical software development company is made up of multiple departments, each of which might have multiple teams and employees with varying skill sets. One branch might be handling UX, while others focus on integration, product development, marketing, customer support, sales, data security, system administration, and so forth.
The intricacies don’t end there, though. More often than not, you’ll find the accompanying job organized in a hierarchical authority structure – with senior leaders at the top, followed by executives, then managers, department heads, team leaders, and so forth.
Now, you can imagine how complicated the web gets in large software development corporations. Google happens to be one of them, and it has proven that OKRs are indeed effective in uniting all stakeholders under common goals.
The trick is to set up links from the company Objective, to department-level OKRs, and team-level OKRs – this allows for strategic goal alignment, with all levels focused on company-wide goal and strategy.
For instance, individuals draw personal weekly plans, tasks, and quarterly initiatives from their team-level key results while the corresponding team-level objectives will correlate directly with company-wide OKRs.
Such a harmonious framework of OKRs would streamline all the activities within the company, as well as facilitate seamless collaboration between individuals, departments, and teams. Even as employees handle tasks separately across different departments, they all end up working toward the same set of objectives.
6. Get all the software engineers on board
And speaking of collaboration, you might want to involve all your employees from the very beginning.
You could start by inviting them to participate in the whole process of formulating and writing up OKRs, before finally engaging them in the implementation and tracking of Key Results.
This collaborative approach is bound to generate highly strategic OKRs – thanks to the many creative ideas you’ll be sampling from multiple contributors. What’s more, the active participation might trigger a deeper sense of accountability and ownership from your software engineering team.
To boost productivity even further, consider granting your employees the autonomy to dictate what they’d want in their personal OKRs. Many of the best-performing OKR examples for software development were created by engineers who had the privilege to freely pick their individual projects.
Don’t leave everything to them, though. You should, instead, apply a healthy balance of both bottom-up (employee-created) and top-down OKRs (leadership-created).
About 60% of the OKRs should come from leadership levels (to collectively align all company operations), while the rest (40%) could be left to teams and individuals. At least then, people get to define what they’d like to work on without deviating from the company’s bottom line.
7. Maintain full visibility and transparency
When you finally compile and piece together the resultant OKRs, remember to provide full uninterrupted visibility across the entire organization. Everyone should be able to see stuff they’re working on, as well as what their counterparts across other departments are up to.
This gives all the stakeholders a clear picture of where they fit into the company’s overall priorities, how they are progressing compared to the rest, plus their roles when it comes to inter and intradepartmental collaboration.
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15 Best OKR Examples for Software Development
Company level examples for software development
Objective: Improve the quality of our releases
- K.R: Reduce the number of bugs reported after a new release from 20 to 5
- K.R: Increase average number of employees testing product updates in beta before release from 3 to 6.
- K.R: Increase code unit test cover from 30% to 60%
Objective: Refine the quality of the software code
- K.R: Reduce the code churn from 33% to 10%
- K.R: Minimize the average reported bug frequency from 17 to 7 per month.
- K.R: Bring down the rate of defect rejection from 21% to 6%.
Objective: Roll out new performance-optimization features
- K.R: Boost the average customer satisfaction rate from 75% to 95%.
- K.R: Speed up the loading speeds by 50%.
- K.R: Drop average garbage collection from 25% to 5% of the total CPU time.
Objective: Extend app localization
- K.R: Increase the number of supported regional languages from 4 to 10.
- K.R: Gain 6,000 subscriptions per month across each new region of localization.
- K.R: Win over editor’s choice badges in the 5 region-specific App Stores.
Objective: Develop mobile app versions of the software
- K.R: Run the mobile app versions natively on the two biggest smartphone platforms – Android and iOS.
- K.R: Sync data in real-time with the mobile apps at the rate of 100Mb/s
- K.R: Maintain an app crash rate of less than 0.1% across both iOS and Android.
Objective: Upgrade the tech stack
- K.R: Reduce the tech stack maintenance costs from $15,000 to $8,000 per month.
- K.R: Increase deployment frequency from 1,460 per year to 3,000 per year.
- K.R: Maintain an average response time of less than 100ms.
Team-level OKR examples for software development
Objective: Optimize user experience on the web-based software.
- K.R: Drop the cyclomatic complexity for each branch of code from 16 to 5.
- K.R: Raise the system usability scale from 75 to 95.
- K.R: Improve the net promoter score from 5 to 9.
Objective: Shorten the software development cycle
- K.R: Decrease the average Q/A code evaluation time by 50%
- K.R: Lower the average volume of bugs per deployment from 12 to 3.
- K.R: Raise the sprint velocity from 45 to 75 points.
- K.R: Reduce run-time bugs by 95% early during compilation.
- K.R: Deploy 5 new projects in 100% Typescript.
- K.R: Train 80% of full-stack developers on Typescript.
Objective: Seal data security vulnerabilities in front-end and back-end systems
- K.R: Decrease data breach occurrences to 0.
- K.R: Reduce the frequency of emergency patches from 13 to 3 per quarter.
- K.R: Implement a 100% continuous feedback loop in the SDLC.
Objective: Enhance the programming skills of the engineering team
- K.R: Reduce the downtime instances from code errors by 90%.
- K.R: Increase the average customer effort score from 5 to 7 points.
- K.R: Gain full CDP certification for 100% of the team members.
Objective: Improve the reliability of the cloud-based system
- K.R: Achieve and maintain 99.99% uptime throughout the year.
- K.R: Reduce the average peak response time from 500ms to 100ms.
- K.R: Drop the server error rate to 0.05%.
Objective: Enhance technical product development capabilities
- K.R: Achieve an 80% score in 3 data security training tests.
- K.R: Get PMP and CISM certifications by quarter 4.
- K.R: Deploy 2 sample projects on Azure every month.
Objective: Accelerate the testing of software features
- K.R: Increase the automation of regression tests by 75%.
- K.R: Reduce the average time to test by 50%.
- K.R: Run 3 instances of regression testing in parallel.
Objective: Improve our team productivity levels
- K.R: Increase our workflow efficiency from 50% to 75%.
- K.R: Increase the number of completed projects by 100% per month.
- K.R: Use story splitting to reduce and simplify the average task from 4.5 to 3 story points.
We have a list of best free and downloadable OKR templates to get you started.
The Best OKR Tool for Software Development Teams
As you draw inspiration from these OKR examples for software development, keep in mind that this first stage is usually the easiest. Once you compose an ideal set of software developer OKRs, you’ll notice that implementation can get exceedingly arduous.
You have to find a way to rally all individuals involved, distribute their individual tasks, track progress, conduct quarterly OKR reviews, and streamline collaboration – all the while maintaining full visibility across the entire company.
It’s because of these challenges that we developed Weekdone, an agile OKR software that has now become a favorite for teams across multiple fields – including software development and systems engineering.
With Weekdone, you get to automate the whole management process using a specialized PPP (Plans, Progress, Problems) methodology in conjunction with OKRs. Weekdone organizes your quarterly software development OKRs into weekly activity schedules, in which everyone keeps track of their Planned objectives, accomplishments Progress, plus any developing Problems. As a result, your software developers should have an easy time aligning all their activities with the company goals.