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OKR Structure: Solving The Biggest OKR Pain

OKRs are THE goal-setting framework of the XXI century — every business worth knowing about is either using OKRs or has tried them before switching to something else. Yes, they are not for everyone, but for most teams, they work well and significantly increase employee engagement and productivity. That said, many popular online OKR tutorials do not teach OKR Structure. 

As a representative of Oboard — the developer of OKR Board for Jira, the #1 OKR tool on Atlassian Marketplace — I know that the question “How to Structure OKRs?” is painful both for our clients and the Atlassian community in general. And I think it's time for a proper guide to help you easily break down and align your OKRs into an understandable structure.

Also, if you need a refresher on what OKRs are — I have a 20-minute video that will guide you through the basics ;)

What is OKR Structure

OKRs are hierarchical by nature, and your OKR structure determines that hierarchy. It also defines how you break down your OKRs yearly to quarterly and align your Departments with Company Objectives. And if you follow the classic OKR approach — the one designed by Andrew Grove all the way back in the 1970s — there is only one way to break down and align OKRs.

Except, we are not in the 1970s anymore and the OKR methodology is spreading and evolving. What worked for the Intel engineers does not always work for Deutsche Bank financial analysts or a rapidly growing SaaS startup.

That's why first, you must accept that there is no "one true way" to structure OKRs. You are encouraged to experiment and see what works for your Company's needs and corporate culture. However, I will give you a starting point — or even three.

Classic OKRs

Classic OKR Structure.png

 NOTE: I am using OKR Board for Jira to showcase the proposed structures.

 Classic OKRs represent the way Grove and John Doerr originally intended them to be — a strict hierarchical structure that seems rigid but is surprisingly agile due to quarterly check-in meetings. With Classic OKRs, the OKR levels strictly follow your Company's structure, further reinforcing it and giving additional transparency to the actions of smaller units within it.

 If simplified, this is what Classic OKRs might look like:


To use this structure in OKR Board for Jira, activate the "Allow Objective and Key Result to be linked to Key Result" option in the Company Settings. Without it, you can only link Objectives to other Objectives — which is still valid but less flexible.

Company settings.png

As we mentioned, this is the traditional approach designed and reinforced by decades of OKR management. Its most significant benefit is that it brute forces the alignment between different departments by zeroing in on the quarterly Company OKRs and ensuring everyone contributes.

That said, its focus on quarterly planning can also be its weakness. Classic OKRs rely on their rigid hierarchy and require constant readjustment at quarterly check-ins, where the executives review the state of the Company and finetune their predictions for the next quarter. That's why people have devised two other equally valid ways to structure OKRs.


Roadmap OKRs

Roadmap OKR Structure.png

Roadmap OKRs were invented by someone who looked at the check-in process and said, "All of our meetings look the same, so why don't we do just one yearly?". So instead of a set of quarterly objectives regularly readjusted throughout the year, the Company splits each Key Result into four for each quarter.

The result is something like this:


"But Julia," you might say, "not every Key Result can be split into four equal parts and still make sense!". Correct — and not every Company should use Roadmap OKRs. However, financial institutions, retail outlets, and other companies with relatively static OKRs should consider giving them a shot. 

Just do not overdo it. While running the Company on the Roadmap OKRs is sensible, Department OKRs exist on a much lower, tactical scale — and are much better off following a quarterly plan. That's why the Department OKRs are only set for (then current) Q1 on the screenshot above.


Flat OKRs

Flat OKR Structure.png

Flat OKRs happen when you either have a small team or trust your Department heads to make the right decisions every step of the way. It abandons the quarterly Company OKRs entirely — instead, you break down yearly Company OKRs straight into quarterly Department OKRs.

Like this:


This is not a common approach to OKRs, but it is not implicitly wrong. Since everyone is still working on the same overall goal and is aligned, this OKR structure gets the job done. That said, it is much looser than the Classic version and could suffer from goal drift without regular check-ins.

You may find flat OKRs at startups or companies that have only partially switched to the OKR framework. It is a simple, easy-to-comprehend OKR structure that suits their minimal needs. It is not perfect, but it doesn't have to be.

If you can not determine which OKR structure is best for you, Oboard offers a free OKR review! Book a consultation, and we’ll advise you on the optimal OKR structure and overall OKR plan. 

Contributing and Non-Contributing Key Results

Many newcomers to the framework do not understand how to write OKRs. They think each Key Result should directly contribute towards accomplishing the Objective. And while that is partially true, there is more to it.

 While each Key Result should be relevant, direct contribution is not mandatory. You can — and should — have supporting Key Results that indirectly set up other OKRs.

Take a look at this OKR example:

  • [O] Increase brand awareness and reach in the new target market (Gen Z) over Q3
    • [KR1] Conduct a market research study to understand the preferences and behavior of Gen Z consumers by the end of Q2.
    • [KR2] Increase social media following by 20% on platforms popular with Gen Z, such as Instagram and TikTok.
    • [KR3] Organize and execute an influencer marketing campaign with at least 3 influencers popular with Gen Z, generating a minimum of 500k views per campaign.

KR2 and KR3 here directly contribute to completing the Objective, but they would be much less effective without KR1. And while KR1 does not directly contribute to the Objective, it still acts as a force multiplier, ensuring that the subsequent campaigns are more effective and targeted.

That said, non-contributing Key Results may create a mess if you use an automatic OKR completion score. For example, completing KR1 in the example above would mark the entire Objective as "33% complete", which is not true. That's why we have an option in OKR Board for Jira that allows you to disable the individual KR contribution or reduce its weight in the total score.

If you want to learn more about OKR score calculation and contribution, check out our article on OKR alignment!

What Happens When Your OKR Structure is Wrong

Finally, let's talk about what happens if you ignore everything above and do not introduce a proper OKR structure in your Company. There are three general issues: 

  1. Misaligned Priorities. Sometimes tasks you see as low-priority are crucial blocking issues for other Departments. With a proper OKR structure and regular check-ins, such problems have more chances to be noticed and expressed.
  2. Lack of Transparency. When employees do not know precisely how their work affects a company, they become less engaged and motivated. OKRs enforce transparency and provide them with that overview.
  3. Goal Drift. Sometimes people become caught up in their work and forget why they are doing it. For example, one could start with a routine task of optimizing the server and end up rewriting half of the back end while ignoring their actual job. OKRs prevent it from happening since they inherently require employees to prioritize their tasks properly.


OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) have become the productivity framework of choice for many companies, and they have the results to back up the initial learning curve. And now that you know how to set up your OKR structure properly, your OKR adoption will be even easier.

We have discussed three primary approaches to OKR structuring: Classic OKRs, Roadmap OKRs, and Flat OKRs. The Classic OKRs follow a rigid hierarchical structure with quarterly check-ins. Roadmap OKRs are year-long Objectives split directly into quarterly Key Results. Flat OKRs are best suited for small teams, breaking yearly company OKRs directly into quarterly department OKRs. Each approach has pros and cons, and a company should select the one that best aligns with its culture and needs.

Additionally, not all KRs have to contribute directly to an objective; some can indirectly set up the success of other KRs, creating a more comprehensive and effective OKR strategy.

That being said, implementing the proper OKR structure can still be a daunting task. It requires a deep understanding of the business's dynamics, culture, and long-term goals. And if you need help — check out Oboard's OKR consulting. We have experience with OKR adoption across a broad spectrum of companies — from Fortune 500 to fast-growing startups — and our OKR Board for Jira is the Staff Pick on Atlassian Marketplace. 

We can help navigate your team toward a well-structured, result-oriented business approach. We ensure alignment, transparency, and focus on goals while minimizing the chances of goal drift. Schedule a demo call with us to enhance the effectiveness of your OKRs and, ultimately, your business performance.


Julia from Oboard



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