Nimble Industries

Do OKRs work for a two-person company?


What are OKRs?

The goal setting process called “OKRs” or Objectives and Key Results is currently quite popular across the startup and Silicon Valley corporate world. Google uses Objectives and Key Results to maintain goals across its organization. An entire industry of software tools has sprung up to support the process.  Large organizations use OKRs to create top level goals that encapsulate subordinate goals. The objectives cascade down through the organization and help ensure alignment at all levels. The key results of the OKRs are how each team measures their progress towards the objectives. Even small and medium sized startups with fewer levels of hierarchy have found success with OKRs.

Mixed results with OKRs

For some teams, OKRs can be problematic. Our personal experience with OKRs at a previous company had mixed results. There, we utilized OKRs across a 50-person company to help align the entire organization toward common goals. But trying to cascade business goals down into measurable results at the engineering level proved difficult. Upper management inevitably gravitates towards quantifying software development work in ways that are neither productive nor effective: X number of lines of code written. Y number of tickets closed. Z number features delivered. The process of creating the objectives at higher levels of the organization helped engage the team and ensure everyone was rowing the boat in the same direction, but having software engineers write personal objectives and key results to help meet those goals was a non-starter.

Can the Nimble Industries team of entirely two software engineers use OKRs to help drive alignment and to maximize our personal potential? At their core, Objectives are just goals and Key Results are simply ways to measure those goals. From the early days of Nimble Industries, we felt we would need clearly articulated and agreed goals to ensure that both of us had the same expectations. In order to ensure that goals are met, they need to be regularly revisited and and progress towards them needs to be measured. What we need is clear objectives and measurable key results: OKRs.

Developing our own OKRs

OKRs written on index cards, scattered on a desk.

In early July 2018, we set to write objectives and key results for the remaining months of 2018. Quarter goals seemed too short-sighted, but annual goals did not seem agile enough (ehem, nimble enough). We therefore set our sights on the end of the calendar year 2018. We scratched out some goals on index cards and codified everything into a shared Google doc for easy reference. Here are the objectives and key results we created:

  • Grow revenue and reinvest net profit into growth.
    • Increase top line revenue by 40%.
    • Invest 80% of that revenue back into product marketing.
  • Develop a customer acquisition model.
    • Create an automated way to view: dollars spent, sign-ups acquired, customers converted, customer churn rate.
    • Acquire customers for a cost that is less than 8 months of their revenue.
  • Develop a repeatable plan for launching new products.
    • Develop and document a process for launching Washtub.
    • Execute and refine that process on one additional product.
  • Publish our findings and progress publicly and regularly.
    • Publish one new blog post every other week.
    • Have at least one image or illustration in every single post.

In order to hold ourselves accountable to these OKRs, we will hold weekly meeting to align our daily work towards the goals. We will also specifically review, measure, and document our progress toward each key result once monthly.

Can OKRs work for a small team of two? Will long term goals be easier to meet when they have measurable key results? Stay tuned, as we’ll be publishing our results and progress publicly here. It is, after all, one of our OKRs.

About the author

Colin Bartlett

Colin Bartlett is co-founder of Nimble Industries, creators of StatusGator, VimTricks, and many more. He has been building web applications, managing software development projects, and leading engineering teams for 22 years.

Nimble Industries