For the first installment in my series, Courting OKRs Controversy I’m going to cheat a bit here and quote directly from my latest book, “OKRs For Dummies.” Here’s what I had to say on the issue of Metric vs. Milestone Key Results:

Over the years I’ve encountered many OKRs Coaches who insist there is no place in the model for milestone key results. According to these pundits, you must focus exclusively on metric key results that indicate business value or impact. Anything less and you risk, in their opinion, turning OKRs into a glorified to-do list. While I agree that you should never have all milestone key results, because in that case the nay-sayers would be right in that you’d be relying on OKRs as a project plan, in my opinion milestone key results can play a vital part in the formation of a strong OKR. Outlined below are a number of reasons you should, when necessary, include milestone key results as part of an OKR.

  • The impact you’re striving for is new: So many people read Measure What Matters and think, “Oh great, I’ll suddenly have all these outcome-based metrics.” But they forget they’re often starting from point zero, and milestones have to precede metrics. I’ve witnessed organizations become discouraged because of this fact and abandon OKRs altogether, but that’s the worst possible, and least rational, reaction. The fact that you’ve outlined gaps in your execution is a good thing! These are strategic blind spots you have to fix, and you frequently can’t get to the outcomes without the steps (milestones) to fix them. Virtually all of our clients who are new to OKRs write milestone key results. Often they’re necessary because the business impact key results they’d ultimately like to track have never been measured before. Thus, they need to start with a milestone. For example, we’ve had clients who are scaling quickly and have never measured employee engagement. To measure (and improve) engagement first requires the identification of an engagement framework, and next administering an initial survey. Both are examples of milestone key results.
  • Milestones demonstrate progress: Let’s say you have a quarterly objective to: “Improve our website to drive inbound leads.” Your key result might be: “Increase inbound leads from 125 to 200.” That’s a very sound value-based metric key result. Here’s the problem. Are you going to sit back, wait for the ninety days of the quarter to pass and hope you hit your number? Of course not. There are actions you can take to drive that increase in inbound leads, and they are often reflected in milestone key results. For example, in this case, since the objective noted improving your website, a milestone key result could be “Rewrite the Services and About Us pages of our site by February 1st.” This is a necessary input to driving inbound leads.
  • Milestones plug gaps: Earlier in the book I shared an OKR for finishing it (the book) on time to maintain client relationships, which was comprised of three metric key results. The set of key results would be made even stronger with the inclusion of a milestone such as “Submit the final manuscript by April 20.” That milestone is a significant event that must occur in order for me to transition my time from writing back to consulting, and ultimately ensuring no clients defect.

Milestone key results can play an important role in the achievement of objectives. Just keep a few things in mind as you use them. One: Always include a date. That’s how you’ll introduce stretch. In other words, how quickly can you accomplish the milestone, without sacrificing quality. Two: Ensure the milestones you choose predict or drive the business impact key result(s) you’re ultimately striving for. There should a causal connection between the two. Three: Accompany them with a metric key result. The two types of key results should work together to tell the story of your success on the objective.

That’s my take, what do you think?

Paul Niven is author of OKRs For Dummies and a Global OKRs Consultant with