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How to use OKRs to track goals in your company
How to use OKRs to track goals in your company

Keep teams aligned on the company’s top priorities and goals by using OKRs. Learn how to write, implement, and review measurable goals.

Mark Parnell avatar
Written by Mark Parnell
Updated over a week ago

This article is a write-up of a talk at Atlassian TEAM '23 by Nicole Tang, Senior Product Manager at Atlassian.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the working world, enabling global collaboration and flexible work arrangements. However, with remote work comes the challenge of information silos and difficulty in getting alignment, leading to chaos. It's crucial for employees to know their company's top priorities, whether it's revenue, scaling, or security, to ensure alignment and success.

In this article, we'll explore ways to control the chaos and GSD (get shit done) through the power of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). We’ll also share some best practices from how Atlassian has successfully used OKRs and its own products to achieve this.

Watch the video or read on for more ⤵️

How much do you know about your company’s priorities?

Don't be surprised if you don't know your company's top priorities - it's a common issue in today's remote working world.

According to HBR, 95% of a company’s employees are unaware of or don't understand its strategy. What are teams working on then, and are we even working on the most important things? How do we know if we are?

To succeed with OKRs, it’s best to focus on three themes:

  1. Set ambitious goals with measurable results to reach your North star

  2. Use the right tools to manage and maintain your OKRs and control the chaos

  3. Create space for rituals and build a culture of openness to GSD. Remember, rituals and culture are the keys to success.

A recap of what OKRs are

Most people know that “O” stands for Objective and “KR” stands for Key Results. But how do they differ?

John Doer, the Godfather of OKRs, has helped companies like Google and Intuit adopt the OKR framework for GSD. Atlassian has also adopted his best practices with a twist. OKRs are a collaborative goal-setting methodology for setting challenging, measurable goals. They allow for progress tracking, alignment, and engagement.

While there are other goal-setting frameworks such as SMART goals, KPIs, and MBO, what sets OKRs apart is that they are meant to be inspirational and ambitious, allowing for more agile thinking about the "how."

Objectives are what you want to accomplish - they should be significant, concrete, action-oriented, and inspirational. Whereas Key Results are specific, time-bound ways you reach those objectives - the how.

The difference between objectives and key results

An example of why OKRs are important to a company’s success

YouTube's success was partly attributed to the use of an ambitious and aspirational OKR that was set in 2012 by leader Shishir Mehrotra. The OKR aimed to achieve "one billion hours in daily user watch time" by the end of 2016, which was a 10x increase in hours.

The goal was broken down into three measurable KRs, and teams were able to rally around the objective and gain clarity when making tradeoff decisions. They meticulously calculated how their decisions would affect watch time and considered if the costs were worth it.

The OKR took 4 years to reach, but it played a crucial role in YouTube's success and market dominance.

An example of an OKR

How to write OKRs and best practices

When it comes to setting OKRs, it's important to remember that less is more. Depending on the size of your company, it's recommended to limit the number of company-level OKRs from between 1 to 3. Anything more than that will lead to confusion among teams and department heads.

The purpose of having OKRs is to drive clarity, so it's important to identify the most important goals that your company should focus on. If you have more than 3 company-level OKRs, it's time for the executive team to make some tough tradeoff decisions to identify the top objective.

Similarly, the number of key results should also be limited to between 2 to 5. Having less than 2 KRs doesn't make sense, and anything more than 5 can be hard to achieve. If you have more than 5 KRs, it's time to make some tough tradeoff decisions or create cascading OKRs. Remember, the purpose of OKRs is to help teams work on the most important things and not be stretched too thin.

How to write OKRs at the company and department level

Setting company-level OKRs is crucial because they serve as the North star for your company. They should leave no room for guessing for departments and teams. For example, if your company-level OKR is to grow more users, the next level down could be the department layer.

This will drive more clarity and focus for teams and map out how to reach the company-level OKR by the department.

For example, the marketing department's OKR could be to increase brand awareness, as increasing brand awareness is expected to lead to an increase in the number of users. This approach will help ensure everyone is aligned and working towards the same goals.

How to write OKRs at the team level

Team-level OKRs empower teams to work on a common goal they can own and be accountable for. For example, a marketing team's OKR could be launching a specific number of email campaigns targeted at customer segments to increase brand awareness.

This team-level OKR rolls up to the marketing department's objective and ultimately impacts the company's top priority of growing more users.

How to implement OKRs

This is where many companies fail. Implementing OKRs is not a magic bullet that will solve all of a company's problems. Creating a space for rituals and building a culture of openness is key to making OKRs work. Companies need to foster a culture that encourages honest dialogue and feedback, without creating a toxic environment.

At Atlassian, we've found that defining rituals is crucial for success. Standard processes are embedded into everything we do to encourage healthy dialogue and foster transparency.

Setting cadences and maintaining consistency when reviewing OKRs creates a well-oiled machine. Regularly reviewing and scoring OKRs enables companies to conduct a pulse check on how they are performing and hold teams accountable.

We review OKRs either monthly or quarterly, whether it is a live or asynchronous review. This provides enough frequency to understand how the company is performing and whether they need to course-correct. Having consistency across the board by using one tool as the single source of truth also drives clarity.

How to score OKRs

OKRs are scored on a 0.0 to 1.0 scale and allow companies to measure performance towards top priorities using a common framework. Scoring enables celebrating on-track progress and course correction when off-track.

John Doer, the godfather of OKRs, recommends scoring based on how the year is expected to end.

  • A score between 0.0 or 0.3 means the company is off-track and not making real progress

  • A score of 0.7 or 1.0 indicates an OKR is on track and progressing as planned

  • 0.7 is the sweet spot and what we consider our target goal. Anything more is knocking it out of the park.

Setting challenging and achievable goals is key to the success of OKRs. While easy goals are uninspiring, setting overly ambitious goals creates low motivation. It's important to find a balance and to review and refresh goals on a quarterly basis.

Scoring OKRs and communicating them to stakeholders is also crucial. At Atlassian, we have a standard template that prompts OKR owners to share the narrative behind the scoring, including the why, what was learned, risks, data points, and mitigation plans.

Continuously tracking progress and having honest conversations about performance are also essential. By following best practices and adopting OKRs as a collaborative goal-setting methodology, companies can achieve clarity, alignment, and engagement around measurable goals.

How Atlassian manages and tracks OKRs in Atlas

Enter Atlas, our tool for managing and tracking OKRs across Atlassian. Atlas is the first teamwork directory to connect the dots across teams, their apps, and work. There are various mechanisms for using Atlas such as tracking projects weekly and goals monthly. In this case, we’ll look at OKR goal tracking.

We create our goals in Atlas and add sub-goals to build out our OKRs. Each page has a description section (to summarize the OKR), an owner, contributing teams, a target date, and the contributing projects. This helps teams understand how their work contributes to team or company OKRs.

We also score the overall objective and provide monthly updates on the status of the goal in question. If a goal is “At Risk”, we can easily dive into the Atlas projects and review previous update history to understand why it went off track, so leadership can step in and course correct.

How to embed more detail and context with smart links

In Atlas we also embed additional context by using smart links. This reduces duplication by providing a rich preview of content from other sources, such as Confluence, Jira, or Trello. This also extends to over 40 other apps, such as Figma, Mural, Google Docs, and Loom.

This makes it easy to reference context from other tools and to dig deeper into OKRs without having to navigate between different applications.


In conclusion, using OKRs can help control chaos within companies and enable them to reach their goals. By implementing best practices, such as setting cadences and creating a culture of openness, companies can foster an environment that supports success.

Remember that success isn't just in the creation of OKRs, but in the continuation of tracking and having the right conversations on how you’re performing. With a strong framework and tools like Atlas as your guide, you can streamline the process, reduce chaos, and increase productivity.

✨ Get Atlas - free for up to 35,000 users in your organization!

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