Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) | GitLab

Most recent OKRs

All our OKRs are public and listed on the pages below.

What are OKRs?

OKRs stand for Objective- Key Results and are our quarterly objectives. OKRs are how to achieve the goal of the Key Performance Indicators KPIs. They lay out our plan to execute our strategy and help make sure our goals and how to achieve that are clearly defined and aligned throughout the organization. The Objectives help us understand what we're aiming to do, and the Key Results help paint the picture of how we'll measure success of the objective. You can use the phrase “We will achieve a certain OBJECTIVE as measured by the following KEY RESULTS…” to know if your OKR makes sense. The OKR methodology was pioneered by Andy Grove at Intel and has since helped align and transform companies around the world.

OKRs have four superpowers:

  • Focus
  • Alignment
  • Tracking
  • Stretch

We do not use it to give performance feedback or as a compensation review.

The Chief of Staff initiates and guides the OKR process.

Watch EVP, Engineering Eric Johnson discuss the power of OKRs from his perspective:

OKRs should be ambitious but achievable. If you achieve less than 70% of your KR, it may have not been achievable. If you are regularly achieving 100% of your KRs, your goals may not be ambitious enough.

Some KRs will measure new approaches or processes in a quarter. When this happens, it can be difficult to determine what is ambitious and achievable because we lack experience with this kind of measurement. For these first iterations, we prefer to set goals that seem ambitious and expect a normal distribution of high, medium, and low achievement across teams with this KR.

If there is something important that requires two (or more) parts of our organization, all leaders involved should share the same or similar objective. They should have deconflicted key results so they can still acheive things within their sphere of control. This is in keeping with our concepts of collaboration and directly responsible individual (DRI).

The OKRs are what initiatives we are focusing on this quarter specifically. Our most important work are things that happen every quarter. Things that happen every quarter are measured with Key Performance Indicators. Part of the OKRs will be or cause changes in KPIs.

It's acceptable for managers and reports to have an identical key result. For instance, something really important might need to happen at the executive level, but it's a manager or IC several layers apart who is doing the actual execution. Every person in that line of reporting should have the same key result.

While it can feel like double-counting, it is consistent with Andy Grove's concept of Managerial Leverage outlined in his book High Output Management. This ensures that conversations happen in the relevant 1:1's, that everyone knows the latest status, and that the person executing does not accidentally get re-tasked. Please remember to recognize the person that acheived the result so there is no perception of "taking credit" for others' work.

Dogfood portfolio management's strategic planning capabilities

OKRs are like Portfolio Management so we are dogfooding those features to track our OKR progress over the course of a quarter. Work happens in GitLab, so we use GitLab to manage tracking the progress of that work. We use epics to track objectives, and issues to track key results. With health statuses, each of the CEO OKRs maps to an epic, and the progress of all cascading OKRs can be seen at-a-glance.


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Who sets OKRs?

Generally, we do OKRs up to the team level. As a company, we don't do individual OKRs, but some functions may. For example, in the Engineering Division Staff-level (and above) individual contributors have OKRs. Also, individual contributors in the Engineering Division who are not required to do OKRs are welcome to do them with their manager. It's a useful way to prepare for a managerial career, or to align one's activities with the broader goals of the company.

An individual might also have OKRs if they represent a unique team. For example, individual SDRs don't have OKRs, the SDR team does. If Legal is one person but represents a unique function, Legal has OKRs. Part of the individual performance review is the answer to: how much did this person contribute to the team objectives?

OKR Process at GitLab

The EBA to the CEO is responsible for scheduling and coordination of the OKRs process detailed below. Scheduling should be completed at least 30 days in advance of the beginning of the OKR process, which begins 5 weeks before the start of the fiscal quarter.

Five Mondays before the start of the fiscal quarter, the CEO and Chief of Staff initiate the OKR process. The CEO has three objectives every quarter that map to our strategy sequence:

  1. Grow IACV
  2. Popular next generation product
  3. Highly performant team

Initiating the OKR process is best done in two distinct MRs. The first accomplishes the following:

  • create that quarter's page in the handbook
  • set the CEO's objectives as H2 tags on the page
  • skeleton the other parts of the OKR page (e.g. How to Achieve meetings)

In a subsequent MR, the CEO proposes one to three Key Results for the quarter for each of those objectives. At least one KR should loosely map to each executive, though this is not explicitly stated. The CEO shares this MR in the #e-group channel in Slack and discusses it in each of his 1:1s with his direct reports in the next week.

The following week, four Mondays before the start of the fiscal quarter, Executives propose OKRs for their functions to the CEO via a merge request only. There should be no action taken in issues or epics yet. Since things are still subject to change, there is the risk of having to change them in multiple places. Issues and epics related to OKRs should not be created until OKRs for the E-Group have been finalized.

Each executive should aim for a maximum of 3 objectives. Each objective has between 1 and 3 key results; if you have less, you list less. While OKRs are known for being ambitious or committed, we only have ambitious OKRs.

These merge requests should cascade from one of the CEO's OKRs, ideally from the key results, though there are some OKRs that will cascade only under an existing objective.

Executives should consider how their OKR efforts can have the greatest impact on the organization. Functions can have objectives under any of the three CEO OKRs. For example, the People Team could have an objective under the CEO's IACV OKR if it identified that a specific enablement activity were key to driving sales or the Sales Team could have an objective under the CEO's Great Teams OKR if it were focused on improving team diversity. Functions should not be pigeonholed into the CEO OKR that appears to be most directly related to the function.

When ready for review, MRs should be shared in the #okrs channel in Slack and at-mention the Chief of Staff and CEO. The CEO is the DRI for merging, but may delegate this responsibility to the CoS.

The week that begins three Mondays before the start of the fiscal quarter, there is an OKR Draft Review Meeting for the e-group. This meeting is an opportunity for executives to get feedback from one another and highlight any dependencies on other functions to one another. The agenda for this meeting is structured as follows:

  1. Function
    1. MR: link to MR
    2. Dependencies: call out any dependencies

If there are no concerns, the CEO or CoS should merge the MR in or immediately following this meeting. If additional action needs to be taken by the functional leader, the MR should be shared in the #okrs channel in Slack when it's ready for final review.

Now that Executive (function-level) OKRs are set (as set as things are at GitLab; Everything is always in Draft!), Executives shift their focus to finalizing OKRs to their team.

This is also the opportunity to create Executive OKRs in GitLab (epics and issues) and add them to the relevant CEO OKR Epics.

Notes for Pass-thru KRs: To avoid duplicate issues for the same KR due to the fact that an Issue can only inherit from a single Epic, make the KR issue a child of the Objective epic at the lowest level in the organization structure. The upper level Objective epics all refer to the single KR issue but not in the inheritance hierarchy.

The week before the fiscal quarter begins, each executive presents a How to Achieve presentation. The presentation should outline how executives plan to achieve each of their Key Results. The presenation is NOT a status update on previous quarter's OKRs.

EBA to the CEO schedules the 25-minute How to Achieve Meetings. All executives, the CoST, and the Functional EBA are all invited, but only the CEO and Functional Executive are required.

Details on meeting preparation:

  1. Functional Leaders should record their How to Achieve presentation before hand.
  2. Videos should be shared in the #okrs channel in Slack at least 2 business days before the call. This should be done at least two days before the scheduled call. If completed two days before, add the link to the recording in the #okr Slack channel.
  3. Functional EBA may add a calendar invite on their leader's calendar for three days before to remind the leader to upload the YouTube video, if that would be useful.
  4. EBA to the CEO to link agenda and notes doc to the calendar invite 24 hours in advance. We'll use this to track questions and action items.

Some executives have asked EBAs to ensure there is time on the calendar to review the videos before the meeting. EBAs should coordinate with their Executives directly.

The How to Achieve presentation is recorded in a video and delivered beforehand. The How to Achieve meeting is the discussion/Q&A of the presentation. The meeting is livestreamed to YouTube, as a private or public stream, as necessary. The EBA who sets up the livestream will confirm with the presenter beforehand. OKRs are public, and we are public by-default, so we should aim for as many public How to Achieve presentations as possible.

The Chief of Staff updates the OKR page for the current quarter to be active. CEO OKRs may be included in the next formal or informal Board meeting.

Format of OKR on the Handbook Page

OKRs have numbers attached to them for ease of reference, not for ranking

This is the format for OKRs added to the handbook page.

1. Title: Objective as a sentence.

  1. Title KR: Key result
  2. Title KR: Key result
  3. Title KR: Key result

Functional leaders are welcome to remove their KRs from the page when link their Objectives to epics. If they do not, they are responsible for updating the handbook before each Key Meeting. The title is of person who is the directly responsible individual.

Format of Objectives and Key Results in Epics and Issues

The Epic naming convention should match what is in the handbook. In other words, all OKR-related epics should follow the naming convention of "Title: Objective as a sentence". The CEO Epic will include the Fiscal Quarter in it. Cascading epics should not.

Issues can be name in whatever way best captures the work that is being done.

Teams should update the Health Status of their KR issues and present them in their Key Meeting. When presenting the status of OKRs, we use the following terms to denote the status of a key result:

  1. On track - the DRI is confident the key result will be achieved.
  2. Needs attention - the DRI believes there is some risk the key result will be achieved. Elevated attention is required in order for the key result to be achieved.
  3. At risk - the DRI does not expect the key result will be achieved. Urgent action is required in order for the key result to be achieved.

A Key Result's issue's health status should be maintained as the SSOT on the status. The issue's parent epic will roll up the health statuses of all relevant issues.

At the end of the quarter, the relevant epic should be screenshotted by the CoS team and added to the page as a snapshot of final scoring.

Everyone is welcome to a suggestion to improve any OKR. To update please make a merge request and post a link to the MR in the #okrs channel in Slack and at-mention the Chief of Staff.

OKR resources: