How do you align your entire organization around specific company goals? And what’s the right way to motivate team members to improve employee performance and team cohesion?
Goal-setting is an important strategy: Your company and its teams need to know the what. But as important as goal setting is, it’s only part of the equation. Quality goals or objectives alone often lack crucial information about the how — how the team will accomplish the goal or what milestones will occur along the way.
Likewise, project and performance management have their place — but only once the what and how are established.
This is where OKRs come in. They add key results (KRs) to your objectives (O), making them more measurable and focusing team members on outcomes, not just effort or hours worked.
For OKRs to be effective, you must track them properly. So let’s explore the benefits of OKR tracking, plus five best practices and four leading tools.
Why it’s important to track OKRs
Creating meaningful OKRs is a great first step, and it already sets you above the average (the term OKR is unfamiliar to most of the U.S. workforce as less than 30% know what the term means).
Proper OKR implementation can transform how a business thinks about progress, but those OKRs need to be tracked if you want them to be effective. Think about how quickly you forgot the details of what happened in that meeting last Tuesday or that update email three weeks ago. Your teams feel the exact same way about a “drop it and walk away” sort of OKR.
Below are four benefits of tracking your OKRs. By the way, if you’re looking for a clearer definition of this concept or some real-world examples, we’ve got you!
…just not in this article. In this blog, we'll explore some OKR best practices and the benefits of implementing them. But if you’re looking for a little more, check out our complete guide to OKRs as well as real-world OKR examples.
On to the benefits!
Monitors progress over time
Effective project management requires all sorts of monitoring and tracking. Over the course of a lengthy project, it’s easy for team members to lose focus and cohesion. OKRs set them on a path toward a goal, but it’s when you track progress on those individual OKRs that will help them keep focused on the right things.
Monitoring progress over time reveals movement toward the indicated business goals: how fast the team is going, what hurdles they are facing, and more. This is all valuable data for your project managementinitiatives on the team level.
We’re focusing mostly on the team level here, but these benefits also apply at the company level. Broader company OKRs sometimes can’t be tracked as systematically, but seeing measurable progress toward them still accomplishes the other benefits we’ll discuss.
Keeps team members motivated and on task
If you’re leading a team, you likely have some form of weekly check-ins where you evaluate project progress, bolster employee engagement, and keep a finger on the pulse of employee performance. When you track OKRs and center them in your tactical and strategic planning, you keep team members better motivated and on task.
When team members are regularly reminded of the why and the how — not just the what — they tend to expend more effort toward meeting those objectives. Understanding more of the big picture, plus what smaller or incremental steps they can take to achieve that big picture, is a motivating force that can help keep your team members from settling into “exchange time for money” mentalities.
Collects valuable data that informs the next OKR cycle
OKRs tend to run in cycles and can be at least a little bit iterative. On the team level, OKRs are usually planned quarterly. This means that every three months you’ll have a chance to retool or remap your team’s OKRs.
At that point, the data you collected through your tracking system over the previous three months will be invaluable. Which OKRs did the team meet? Which ones were close but not quite? Did the team substantially miss any of them?
Sometimes misses are the team’s fault. But often, they mean that the OKR wasn’t realistic, and you need to adjust it for the next cycle.
To make proper adjustments at the end of the quarter, you need to know what worked and what didn’t. Tracking helps optimize the OKR process as you enter the next cycle using real data, not just guesswork or intuition.
Creates accountability and increases goal-oriented action
Last, tracking OKRs creates greater accountability for team members because their contributions toward key results are usually on display — to team members and stakeholders. There’s nothing like a little peer pressure among the marketing team to help folks pull their weight.
This accountability increases the more your OKRs incorporate the principles of SMART goals, too. While the two systems are different, you’ll find the various elements of SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) sprinkled throughout all the best OKRs.
How to track OKRs: 5 best practices
Hopefully by now we’ve convinced you that tracking OKRs is a good plan. What we haven’t done is show you how to actually do it.
The truth is there are multiple ways to conduct this tracking and catalog the resulting data — and not all these ways are equally beneficial.
Here are five best practices to follow as you begin tracking OKRs for your company, department, or team.
Make sure your OKRs are designed to be trackable
First, if you want to effectively track your OKRs, make sure they’re built properly. The objective may or may not contain a quantitative (numerical, trackable) element, but most — if not all — of your key results need to.
Here’s an example: “Increase website traffic” is something you probably want to do. But what does that mean? Is an increase of 10 viewers considered a success? 1,000? 25,000? We don’t know yet.
Though you could certainly improve it, “increase website traffic” could sort of work as an objective. But it would be a poor key result.
Key results for increasing website traffic could include:
Grow organic search traffic by 200% (key result 1).
Increase social and paid search spending by 15% (key result 2).
Launch five press releases this quarter and pitch each to 25 reporters or news outlets (key result 3).
Each of these can be measured and tracked.
Use OKR software to enable better tracking
Next, use a high-quality OKR software tool to gain powerful automated tracking capabilities.
Tracking OKRs usually takes place in some kind of OKR software or OKR tool. You can track OKR progress at a basic, manual level in spreadsheet apps like Excel or Google Sheets, but there are far more sophisticated options out there (which we’ll cover in the next major section below). Using a focused tool with all the right integrations with your existing tech stack will greatly improve your user experience — not to mention your results.
Update OKR tracking information at least weekly (and share at weekly meeting)
Once you’re using a software tool for OKR tracking, you’ll immediately cut down on manual work in your workflow. But you still may need to collate some of this tracking information or prepare it for viewing. Make sure to do this weekly so you never fall too far behind, and your teams can see the progress for themselves.
Highlight OKR progress at your weekly check-ins or team meetings as well. Doing so will keep OKRs front of mind and provide a venue for team members to correct any missing data or ask questions about the direction or next steps.
Further break down large or complex OKRs using initiatives
While not required for all OKRs, initiatives can help to break down complex key results into smaller, more attainable (and measurable) steps or processes.
Take key result 1 from our example OKR up above. Growing organic search traffic by 200% is a great indicator that you’re increasing website visitors.
But how the heck are you going to increase organic search traffic by 200%? You can’t just flip a switch. We think Staples still sells Easy Buttons, but unfortunately, no one sells a magic SEO button.
To track progress on this key result, break it down into multiple subtasks or initiatives — and then track progress along those initiatives, too.
Don’t go OKR crazy
This last best practice is vital, especially if OKRs are relatively new for you or your team or company: Don’t go crazy.
What we mean by that is it’s entirely possible to set so many wide-ranging OKRs that no one can remember which end is up. Remember, OKRs are a way of focusing teams on specific outcomes. To work well, there can’t be 15 or 25 of those outcomes.
The consensus among experts and organizations focused on OKRs is that three to five OKRs are plenty. Each quarter, aim for five or fewer OKRs. The smaller your team, the smaller that number should be.
Best tools for tracking OKRs specifically
We mentioned earlier that optimal OKR tracking requires the right digital tools. We’ll highlight four available tools on the market today — some are broad project management solutions that include OKR tracking, while others are more limited tools focused on OKRs alone.
Teamwork is a user-friendly yet powerful project management platform built with the needs of modern teams and agencies in mind. Teamwork allows you to plan, schedule, and track all project elements and includes support for milestone tracking, budgeting, and time tracking.
Included in Teamwork is the ability to track OKRs: The project management suite already tracks the data you’ll need to track your OKRs, plus it has the integrations you need with the other tools you’re already using.
Best of all, Teamwork already has a powerful OKR template built in — free for all Teamwork customers! Our OKR template helps you set up and smash your goals, keeping all team members on the same page as they work toward common key results. The card-based interface is beautiful and easy to understand, too.
Ally is a powerful tool dedicated exclusively to goal setting and OKR tracking. Businesses and teams use Ally to plan, measure, and track their OKRs. As a standalone tool, Ally has plenty of polish and functionality that allows users to focus intently on their OKRs without a bunch of outside distractions.
Of course, the downside to using a standalone app is that you lack a natural integration with whatever tool is storing the information you need to do the tracking.
Also, another brief word of warning: Microsoft recently acquired Ally, and the company’s site appears to be in transition. The site still contains a wealth of OKR information and continues to support existing customers, but it looks like moving forward, interested parties will need to transition to Microsoft Viva Goals.
Lattice calls themselves a “people success platform.” Functions in the suite include performance management, OKR and goal tracking, internal engagement tools, employee development and career growth tools, as well as compensation and analytics functions.
With a dedicated portal for OKR and goal tracking, Lattice provides a respectable focus on this discipline. Lattice claims to integrate OKRs into the daily routines of each employee, keeping team members focused on specific key results by tying them to their day-to-day work.
If there’s a downside to Lattice, it’s the hyperfocus on OKRs. That may be what you’re after, but we think a more balanced approach — one that includes project planning, task management, time tracking, and OKR tracking — makes more sense for most organizations.
15Five is an HR-focused software suite with four primary product areas: engagement, performance reviews, “transform” (a training and upskilling product), and an OKR and goal management module.
The OKR component within 15Five allows teams to set and collaborate on goals easily, and the OKR tracking feature appears easy to use. The interface is colorful and friendly, with color-coded progress bars displaying incremental progress on company-wide and individual OKRs.
The downside to such a granular display is that businesses must get the data feeding the system exactly right — if not, the friendly colorful progress bars won’t work properly, and the tool becomes less and less meaningful.
The company boasts a “research-inspired” approach to OKRs thanks to a partnership with the Center for Evidence-Based Management. Overall the tool appears high in quality — we just question whether it makes sense in isolation or grouped with HR tools. Tying your OKR tracking into your broader project tracking system seems a smarter approach to us.
Achieve OKR success with Teamwork
OKRs can be a powerful tool for aligning, focusing, and motivating teams and individuals toward shared goals that support your company’s vision. But for an OKR framework to function optimally, you’ll need to track those OKRs in a measured, systematic way.
Looking to achieve OKR success? You can with Teamwork. Teamwork’s integrated approach to project management brings all your project, task, and resource management functions under one roof. With Teamwork, you can use a centralized pool of information as you build out everything you need for project success: project plans, project schedules, OKRs, and much more.
In other words, Teamwork is the optimal choice for organizational and project success. Ready to see for yourself? Check out our OKR template to get started.