OKR > OKR examples > Why the OKR rule 3×3 does not work

Why the OKR rule 3×3 does not work

In today’s dynamic world, clearly defined goals are essential to achieve success and progress. The OKR method (Objectives and Key Results) is an optimal way to achieve goals effectively and efficiently.

Did you know that the optimum number of OKR sets per team should be between 2 and 4? And the optimum number of key results per OKR set is also between 2 and 4?

Why at least 2 OKR sets?

More than one OKR set enables us to choose at least two from the variety of topics that we should address in terms of strategy implementation or improving operational activities. This way we avoid the trap of focusing on just one thing in a cycle (typically 3 months) and overlooking other important areas. In purely operational teams and in some situations, however, it can also be advantageous to focus on just 1 OKR set, for example on optimizing an operational activity.

Why at least 2 Key Results per OKR set?

We also recommend creating at least 2 key results per OKR set. This offers a more holistic measurability of our objective and prevents us from fixating on a single result that could be misleading. This is precisely one of OKR’s key strengths.

Why a maximum of 4 OKR sets and a maximum of 4 key results?

Why the upper limit of 4? A study published in the journal “Cognition” in 2001 came to the conclusion that our working memory can generally only handle four units of information effectively at the same time. By limiting ourselves to four OKR sets and four key results per OKR set, we ensure that we and the teams are not overwhelmed and can concentrate effectively on achieving the objectives.

Have you also heard of the 3×3 rule?

We often hear about the 3×3 rule – 3 OKR sets and 3 key results per OKR set, which may seem simple and structured at first glance, but which poses challenges in practice.

Why is the 3×3 rule not optimal?

If strictly followed, the 3×3 rule is very rigid. Flexibility is often the key to success when setting goals. Different teams require a different number of OKR sets depending on the size of the team and the diversity of activities – and a different number of key results per OKR set depending on the objective, impact contribution and benefit. A rigid rule that prescribes exactly three OKR sets and three key results can frustrate teams in the creation process and lead to misleading goals.

If teams are forced to create exactly three OKR sets, they might be inclined to set a third insignificant goal just to meet the quota – or have to cut a significant fourth goal just to meet the rule. Likewise, if teams are forced to create exactly three key results per OKR set, they might be inclined to add a third insignificant or even difficult/expensive to measure metric just to meet the quota – or have to cut a significant fourth key result just to meet the rule.

Overall, the 3×3 rule can ultimately lead to a less effective implementation of OKR and dilute the overall goal of the team. The aim is to find a balance that provides both structure and flexibility and allows teams to set and pursue their goals effectively. We therefore recommend the 2-4 x 2-4 rule.

If we see the rule as a 3±1 x 3±1 rule, we arrive at the 2-4 x 2-4 rule. If the 3×3 rule is interpreted and practiced in this way, it makes sense.

Proven practices are the key to success with OKR

The 2-4 x 2-4 rule is one of our many tried and tested best practices that you can learn in our OKR seminars.
Our next 3-day OKR seminar with certification as OKR Coach/Master will take place from July 18 to 20, 2023 in Munich.

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