OKRs are even harder than you think

by Vagelis Antoniadis, CEO

Back in 2019, I wrote an article about how hard it is to implement a so lightweight and easy to understand framework. I was describing common pitfalls we confronted during our implementation in Cytech and gave some advises from our experience.

Five years passed since that article and I am coming back to admit that implementing OKRs is harder than what I was thinking at that point, but there is a very serious reason why. I am not going to give a list of advises as there are many blogs out there, as well as consultants, who can provide such information. You can also refer to my previous article and presentation. In this blog post, I want to argue that OKR is a framework difficult to implement, because it asks from everyone involved to have deep knowledge about their goals, their product and their organisation. And let me explain myself.

The most common pitfall with OKRs is mistaking Key Results (KRs) for a simple to-do list. Instead of reflecting true progress towards a goal, teams fall into the trap of constructing KRs as a sequence of tasks, often resulting in misleading metrics.

For example:

Objective: To release the new login screen till the end of this Q

KR1: Implement the new login screen till February 22

KR2: Pass the UATs till February 28

KR3: Release to staging environment till March 15

KR4: Release to production environment till March 25

The problem with this approach is that, although it seems straight forward, it has nothing to do with the real value either to the business or the customer. Our intuition pushes us to put tasks in a list in order to implement them, but this is not the way to deal with goals and strategy. We need to view things from a higher level. So my approach is simple:

In order for an Objective or Key Result to be included in our OKRs, they need to survive the “Why” Test

The Why Test is an easy way to understand if it’s clear to everyone the value an objective or a key result offers to the organisation or the customer. Practically, this means that during the OKR planning meeting, someone challenges the OKRs proposed from someone else or even the Board of Directors. Let’s use the example above:

Objective: To release the new login screen till the end of this Q


So we provide a better user experience to our customers


Because this way they manage to login easier and they won’t need any assistance and reduce customer service calls.


This Aha moment is very important, because it is then that the team understands the real value of the objective. In the example above the value to the customer is that we’ll make their lives easier so they can do their job and keep using our service. And the value to the business is about customer retention. It has nothing to do with the login screen, well… it has but now the team understands why we need to implement it.

Another benefit is that having a clear objective makes much easier to set the right and valuable key results. I am going back to our example:

Now that we know that the value is to have customers use our service without any assistance, we need to measure exactly that. I know it’s harder than checking tasks off a list, but understanding the deeper “why” makes much more sense. So we need to measure how many times they called our customer service or they used our chatbot or opened a ticket. Lowering these factors we make real impact to the customer and the company. The customer is happier so more loyal, and the company spends less time in explaining the same process to the customers and is able to invest time in something more valuable, like building something more than just a login screen 🙂

I’d like to conclude with some thoughts on the “Why” test, which is based on the 5 Whys technique. While it seems simple in concept, truly answering “Why” can be challenging. This requires deep thinking and a broad understanding of the problem, product, organization, and even ourselves. Answering “Why” reveals our motivation and purpose, far more than “How” or “What.” In our example, answering “Why” clarifies our team’s or organization’s purpose and why we strive to improve or innovate. Alignment around purpose, not just process or results, is crucial. Sadly, even large organizations often miss this mark. They provide a desired result as a guiding star, but without a clear purpose, teams feel unmotivated along the way.