One of my favorite practices as a business owner is to do a quarterly review and reflection. Each quarter I set OKR’s, or measurable goals, and reflect on the progress made in the last quarter. A quarter is a perfect amount of time to set a goal and make progress on it, and it’s a great interval to catch yourself if you’re not making any forward progress, either. For the last several years of my life, quarters have been the backbone of part of my planning process.
In this essay, I’ll explain OKRs first, and then talk about why quarterly reviews are so effective and how I do them.
What are OKRs and how do they work?
OKR’s stand for Objectives and Key Results. It’s a system for tracking your desired objectives and keeping yourself accountable. They work better than goal-setting, in my opinion, because they force you to break down a goal into it’s component parts:
Step 1: What do you want? What’s the objective?
This may be “Lose weight,” “Go on more dates,” or “Get more sleep,” if it’s a personal goal. It might be “Grow email subscribers,” “Make money,” or “Write a book,” if it’s a business objective.
Step 2: How will you measure it?
Then, the second part — Key Results — is designed to have you answer the question, “How will you know when you’ve achieved it?” This is an essential, critical part of the system. You have to know what metric you will use to measure it. Smart goals are measurable and actionable. The system of OKRs requires this from the get-go.
If your goal is to Grow Email Subscribers, then you need a key result that shows how you’ll measure your progress. You can have more than one Key Result per Objective, so you may have project-based outcomes and growth-based measurements. For example:
- O: Grow Email Subscribers
- KR: Implement pop-up on website.
- KR: Test three landing page variations.
- KR: Grow email subscribers by 2x (from 150 subscribers to 300 subscribers).
For more on OKRs, check out Buffer’s blog post on Trello, or this comprehensive post on Lattice.
Why the quarterly review is so effective
I find monthly reviews and annual reviews both to be great processes (I’ve written about them here and here), but there’s something specific to the quarterly cycle that is the perfect time frame for business review. A month goes by too quickly to gather enough data to make decisions, and if you spend 25% of your time tracking and reviewing the work, there’s too little time to implement the lessons learned each month. But a year is far too long: if a year goes by and you haven’t checked on your goals in a while, you may wake up to find you’re way off track from where you want to be.
The cycle of the quarter allows you enough time to test, build, and implement new projects and systems, and then a short period to analyze and reflect on what’s working. Also, it gives you four equal measurement cycles throughout the year to compare and track.
Personally, I love quarterly cycles because I also can dedicate one to a specific focus or area, whether personal or professional, and know that it’s not forever. Sometimes I dedicate an entire quarter to “Saying No” to all event invitations to make space for a goal like “Writing Two Book Chapters.” It’s far easier to say no periodically when I know that there is an end date. In my emails, I’ll write, “Hey love, I’m taking this quarter to focus on writing my book, but I’ll be back on the event circuit again this Fall once I have a solid draft in place. Thanks for understanding!”
I use a 13-week system for each quarter (the year is 52 weeks), and I save the last week of every quarter for reflection and review. (If there’s a holiday week, I schedule it earlier and remember that the quarter isn’t as long as we think; the Christmas Holiday is always one that creeps up on me, and we have to do our year-end accounting and reporting by the second week of December, which makes the last quarter of the year FLY by.)
The quarterly review process
These are the questions I use to guide the review:
- Objectives: What were your goals and objectives this quarter?
- Strategy: What were the projects and key results for each objective?
REVIEW + RESULTS
- Life: What unexpected came up? Was there scope creep? If so, what?
- Results: How did you do on each goal?
- Analysis: What worked? What didn’t? Why?
- Lessons Learned: What lessons will you take forward from this?
I always include a “Life” category in my review and reflection process, because invariably stuff comes up that I wasn’t expecting. Always. Without fail. So I write it down and acknowledge it as a way to remind myself when planning the upcoming quarter, to leave a little breathing room.
If you’re just starting out, use the first week of the quarter (or really, whenever you are starting) to set your plans and OKRs, and then follow-up at the beginning of the next cycle to both reflect backwards on what worked, and plan forward for the next cycle.