Warning: OKR goals are not tasks!
April 30, 2019

Warning: OKR goals are not tasks!

Companies often confuse OKRs with tasks. Those conversations inspired us to write this post because OKR goals (or generally any organizational goals) are completely different than tasks. In fact, managing and tracking goals at an enterprise level  has nothing to do with tracking tasks. Understanding that OKRs are not tasks can make goal management significantly less complicated for CEOs and executives. Let’s differentiate the two using the definitions below.

Google’s re:Work on OKR goals says this about OKRs: “One thing OKRs are not is a checklist. They are not intended to be a master task like… Use OKRs to define the impact the team wants to see, and let the teams come up with the methods of achieving that impact.”

  • A task is something that you do.

  • A project is an initiative – to complete your project, you have to do various tasks.

  • A goal, an OKR goal or an objective, is what you want to achieve and you usually have to complete a combination of various projects in order to attain your goal.

Tasks

A task is basically a “to do” item—you need to perform many tasks (and perhaps many projects) to achieve your goal but tasks do not actually tell you whether you are doing the “right things”. You are just doing them. It’s the OKR goals that tell you what is right or what it is that is right for your company, what matters most for your organization this particular quarter.

A task is something you do! It is not a result—it is not an outcome at the end of the quarter that you want to achieve. In fact goals (i.e. OKR goals) are results and outcomes unlike tasks. So at the most basic level, a task is just an action—you need to do many tasks or actions to complete a project. And any project consists of many tasks (i.e. there is a many-to-one relationship between tasks and projects). Next, you will have to finish a number of projects throughout the quarter in order to achieve the goal (i.e. and there is a many-to-one relationship between projects and goals).

Employees have to complete small tasks every day, all the time, and clarifying the difference between tasks, projects and OKRs is essential for getting the best performance and alignment of company goals throughout your organization.

In order to complete the tasks that contribute to a larger project, and likewise, multiple projects and tactics that go into completing a key results and ultimately objectives/goals, individuals must organize their time and execute these tasks and ultimately projects efficiently and effectively.

While organizing tasks is critical for completing objectives on the individual level, the issue is that CEOs and executives (and even managers) do not have nearly enough time to oversee the tasks of each employee. Managing people is far different from managing tasks or projects. What CEO or exec would possibly have time to review every single activity that every employee completes?

This brings me to the next point, OKRs, which are specifically about results and outcomes, not activities.

OKRs.

OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are goals! Please note, we use goals and objectives synonymously and interchangeably for the sake of simplicity.

And goals are all about outcomes and results. They span a time period of a quarter. They can be measured in an OKR goals dashboard with analytical data insights which show you whether you are on track to achieve your key results such as “Increase Sales to $120 Million” (and if you’re at $60 Million then you are 50% done) or “Generate 1,000 Qualified Leads” (and at 7,000 you are 70% progress).

To hit your OKR goal, you must finish a number of projects (which in turn consist of many tasks). Thus goals are everything that tasks are not. They are above projects and above tasks— they are a superset of projects (and in turn projects are a superset of tasks).

OKRs are a powerful goal-setting and tracking approach that determine objectives and create specific, detailed steps that must be taken to achieve those objectives. OKRs impose clarity, focus, engagement, and alignment in an organization. The O in OKRs stands for objectives (the aim you are trying to accomplish), and KR stands for key results (actionable steps taken to get there, which must be measurable and quantifiable).

Although tasks and OKRs are entirely different concepts, they are related to one another because the key results encompass tactics, which are made up of a series of tasks. In order for a tactic to be completed, the tasks that fall under it must first be executed. Take a look at the demonstration of this relationship, below:

See how tasks—although encompassed by OKRs—are entirely different from the OKR process itself? While tasks are not for CEOs, executives, or even managers, OKRs are. They allow managers and executives to oversee and manage their people while still ensuring that their company-level goals are being met. It’s impossible to monitor every daily task of every employee, but with OKRs, it’s entirely possible to set, monitor, and manage the larger objectives that support company goals.

Tasks form the basis for getting anything done in any organization, but the companies that push beyond expectations to achieve aggressive goals do so by organizing those tasks into OKRs.

Get Workfront blog updates straight to your inbox.