Skip links

OKRs: All you need to know

Introduction to Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

OKRs, Objectives and Key Results, are a strategic framework designed to set clear, ambitious, and measurable goals. Originating from Andy Grove at Intel and later popularized by Google in 1999, OKRs have become a cornerstone in enhancing organizational performance and employee engagement. Their straightforward structure allows teams to align around significant, measurable objectives, facilitating enhanced focus and commitment across various organizational levels.

The Role of OKRs in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

Incorporating OKRs within the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is not mandatory but is highly recommended, especially for articulating Strategic Themes at the portfolio level. They can profoundly enhance core SAFe values, such as transparency and alignment, seamlessly connecting enterprise and portfolio strategy with the hands-on work of Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and Agile Teams. This alignment is crucial for effectively deploying strategies and achieving measurable results at all levels of an organization.

Benefits of Integrating OKRs in SAFe


  • Strategic Alignment: OKRs ensure that all organizational activities are strategically aligned, helping teams and ARTs maintain focus on overarching business goals.
  • Adaptability Through Feedback: The iterative nature of OKRs, with their emphasis on continuous feedback, aligns well with Agile practices, allowing organizations to remain flexible and responsive to change.
  • Quantifiable Impact: OKRs provide a framework for measuring the effectiveness of organizational improvements and transformations, giving clear metrics that help gauge progress toward strategic goals.

Best Practices for Formulating Effective OKRs

Well-crafted Objective Key Results can successfully align teams and individuals with measurable goals. On the other hand, poorly constructed OKRs can lead to misalignment. Common mistakes include using OKRs to document routine tasks instead of setting visionary goals, focusing on mere outputs instead of impactful outcomes, and listing activities rather than defining measurable key results.

Effective objectives should possess the following characteristics:

  • Inspirational: Objectives should be significant and encourage people to stretch beyond their comfort zones. They ought to motivate action and aim for meaningful achievements.
  • Clear and Memorable: Objectives should be concise and easily remembered, typically ranging from three to five in number. They should focus on qualitative outcomes without numerical specifics, which are reserved for key results.
  • Committed or Aspirational: Objectives need to be categorized as either committed (essential tasks like compliance with new laws) or aspirational (desired achievements with a realistic completion target of 60-70%).
  • Operational or Developmental: It’s helpful to distinguish whether objectives are aimed at improving processes or enhancing solutions. Developmental objectives focus on business results, while operational ones might leverage a mix of SAFe flow metrics.

Each objective should be supported by two to five key results that are:

  • Value-based: Key results should focus on the intended impact of actions, not just the actions themselves. To transition from activities to impacts, consider questions like “What impact is this activity expected to have?” and “How will we measure this impact?”
  • Measurable: Every key result must be quantifiable, typically attached to a numeric goal, utilizing both leading and lagging indicators to gauge progress at various stages.
  • Gradable: Results should allow for grading the extent of achievement, rather than a binary yes or no. For example, key results might aim to “increase from X to Y” or “maintain above X”.

By adhering to these guidelines, organizations can shift from output-focused to outcome-focused OKRs, ensuring that OKRs not only guide daily activities but also drive towards significant business results.

Common Pitfalls in OKR Implementation:
  • Avoiding Ambiguity: Objectives should be explicit and challenging, avoiding any ambiguity that might dilute focus.
  • Outcome Over Output: It’s crucial to emphasize outcomes—the effect of work—over outputs—the work itself. This shift encourages teams to think in terms of the broader business impact.
  • Measurability and Gradability: Key Results should not be a checklist of tasks but quantifiable metrics that reflect real progress and outcomes.

Strategic Application of OKRs within SAFe

Implementing OKRs within SAFe can effectively address several strategic needs:

  1. Portfolio Strategic Alignment: Defining Strategic Themes through OKRs ensures that business objectives are clear and consistently communicated across all value streams and ARTs. This alignment is crucial for maintaining strategic focus and coherence throughout the organization.
  2. Business Outcomes for Epics and Lean Cases: OKRs facilitate the definition and alignment of expected outcomes for epics and lean business cases. By linking these initiatives directly to strategic themes, they contribute effectively to the enterprise’s goals.
  3. Improvement Objectives for SAFe Transformations: Applying OKRs to SAFe transformations helps set specific, outcome-focused goals, such as improving quality, reducing market time, and enhancing predictability. These objectives focus on continuous improvement and are essential for evolving Agile practices.

Challenges and Tactical Considerations

While OKRs offer significant benefits, their implementation in traditional development environments with fixed, large-scale planning cycles may face challenges. These environments often lack the flexibility OKRs require to be truly effective. Moreover, organizations must carefully consider the scope and scale of OKRs to avoid overwhelming teams with excessive objectives, which can dilute focus and reduce overall effectiveness.


Integrating OKRs within SAFe offers a powerful tool for enhancing strategic alignment and driving superior business performance. When appropriately implemented, OKRs clarify strategic intent, foster a culture of achievement, and facilitate a responsive and adaptable organizational environment. Organizations should thoughtfully apply OKRs, continuously evaluating their impact and refining their approach to ensure they serve to enhance, rather than complicate, strategic execution and organizational health. This strategic tool, when wielded correctly, not only aligns and inspires teams but also propels them toward substantial and measurable business outcomes.

You can find additional information about OKRs on the SAFe website.