Defining good results is hard work. But every Workflow negotiation should end in a promise to deliver some well defined results. Results should describe the actual outcome or value you want to create in the world. Often people put down outputs or activities, not outcomes. “Publish 5 articles” is an output, not an outcome. Why do you want to publish those posts? For what purpose? What outcome are you really looking for? What value do you want to create in the world?

Activities are things we do. Outputs are things we produce from our activities. Outcomes are the value we create by our activities and outputs. Generally we can control our activities and our outputs. But its harder to control the outcomes. That's what makes good results outcomes.

ActivitiesThings we do
OutputsArtifacts we produce
ResultsOutcomes we create in the world

When defining OKRs (or more broadly, negotiating promises), we want to focus on defining the real outcomes we want. How do you want your outputs and activities to change the world? This is often tricky and feels a bit contrived. It’s obvious why we want to publish 5 articles. Or is it?

Often it’s recommended to pursue SMART results: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Bound. This can be helpful. Results in the Workflow context are by default time bound because they are part of time bound Workflows. And we can make them measurable by finding some quantitative measure, like our 5 articles. But we can make the result more specific and relevant by specifying who we're creating value for, and what kind of value we're creating for them: "publish 5 articles in top distributed systems journals on the use of formal verification".

Ok, this is more specific and relevant and everything. But really, still, why do we want to do that? It’s still framed as a kind of output, not an outcome. An outcome tends to be something you have less control over - it’s the actual outcome you want to procure in the world. Sure, there’s peer review, so you can’t guarantee the paper will be published. But maybe a better result is “Have 2 different members of the team get invited to speak at a top conference on formal verification in blockchain” - this doesn’t even say anything about how many papers to publish, but it gets at the heart of what we might actually want out of publishing some papers. We could of course go further and ask why we even want that - what outcomes do we want out of presenting at the conference? But we'll stop there for now. The important point is just to have the conversations!

One helpful way to think about defining results is by types of results. We identify four major categories of results:

  • Customer Value (CV)
  • Adoption (A)
  • Reputational (R)
  • Sustainability (S).

It helps to try and roughly balance the results for an objective across these categories. Customer Value refers to the value we create for users. Adoption is about getting more people using our stuff. Reputational results increase our reputation in the world. Sustainability results show greater revenue or capacity within the team.

If you’re struggling to write good results, write the activities you think you should perform and the outputs you think you should produce. Then ask, why do I want to do these things? What outcome do I really want ? What value do I want to create in the world? Often it’s just a small change in phrasing that’s required. For instance, instead of “Promote cephalopod as a leading validator”, which is clearly an activity, a better result would be “Two independent news articles mention Cephalopod as a leading validator” or “a thousand people understand that Cephalopod is a leading validator”.

At the end of the day, it’s less important what specific text you write for a result. The more important thing is the conversation you have with your team around the result and the shared understanding you build around what you’re doing and why and what you plan to achieve in the next time horizon. OKRs are a tool for building shared understanding in the teams and across the company about what we’re doing and why, for the purpose of increasing autonomy and improving coordination, getting us all resonating and rowing in the same directions.

For some good resources on OKRs, see