Creating Goals (OKRs) in Asana: Clarification and Best Practices

Larry Berger
Jul 17, 2020 · 5 min read
Goals page screenshot
Goals list view example

This article offers some helpful explanations and simple best practices to pave the way for putting Asana’s new Goals feature to immediate use, especially for OKRs (Objectives and Key Results).

Goals is an Asana Business feature. If you’re on the Premium plan, contact the author at Trilogi Solutions for an attractive alternative solution that doesn’t require Asana Business.

With the new Goals feature release (just yesterday!), all levels of Asana’s Pyramid of Clarity are for the first time represented in the app:

Graphic of Mission > Objectives Portfolios > Projects and Processes > Tasks hierarchy/matrix
Graphic of Mission > Objectives Portfolios > Projects and Processes > Tasks hierarchy/matrix
Asana Pyramid of Clarity

Let’s start by clarifying some possible initial points of confusion, then move on to a couple of simple suggestions you can implement immediately.

Note: This article focuses on just a few aspects of Goals and assumes you’re already familiar with the feature; if not, see Goals in the Asana Guide.

What’s a Goals Hierarchy?

From the Asana Guide: “Goals can be linked as parent or sub-goals, to create a goal hierarchy.”

How deep you make this hierarchy depends on how large — how many levels — your organization is and whether you wish to represent all these levels/goals in Asana.

Each goal is either a Company-wide Goal or a Team Goal. “Company goals are longer-term goals tied to the achievement of your organization’s mission. Team goals are shorter-term goals that ladder up to your company’s mission-oriented objectives.” Company Goals should appear at the top of the hierarchy at a minimum. Either type is permitted at any level, allowing for flexibility for all sizes of organizations or modes of use of the Goals feature.

Where are Objectives?

The OKR methodology uses the term Objective to mean a goal you’d like to achieve.

For now (but not for long), just assume that a Goal or Sub-Goal in Asana is a synonym for Objective.

Where are Key Results? (Or when is a Sub-Goal not an Objective?)

See, that didn’t last long.

The OKR methodology states that Goals be accompanied by their Key Results: the metrics by which a Goal is measured.

What’s not really made clear in Asana’s otherwise excellent documentation on Goals is that a Sub-Goal in Asana is a multi-purpose feature we use to represent two very different things: A Sub-Goal can be either: 1) an Objective (an actual Goal), or 2) a Key Result.

If a Sub-Goal has one or more (child) Sub-Goals, then that (parent) Sub-Goal must be an actual Goal (an Objective in OKR methodology).

Goals page screenshot
A Goal with a Sub-Goal is an actual Goal

If a Sub-Goal has no (child) Sub-Goals of its own (it is a leaf node in Tree Structure terminology), then that Sub-Goal must be a Key Result, because to represent a (Sub-)Goal without any Key Results is incomplete.

Goal page screenshot
Sub-Goal (“Earn customer love”) with three KRs

Let’s get to the easy Best Practice suggestions . . .

Best Practice: Distinguish Key Results from Sub-Goals

If a Sub-Goal represents a Key Result, prefix its title with:

📊 KR: [Title of Key Result here]

For Sub-Goals that represent actual Goals/Objectives (not Key Results), just specify the title without any prefix — unless otherwise indicated then it’s a regular Goal/Objective:

[Title of Sub-Goal here]

Best Practice: Organization Mission Statement

Asana has not (yet) provided a place for the Organization’s Mission statement.

Until there’s a place provided for this, I recommend just using the first Goal slot for the Mission, represented as a standalone, top-level Goal, but prefixing its title with:

🤝🏾 MISSION: [Mission statement here]

Do not add any Sub-Goals to this Mission/Goal; just use the top-level Goal slots below it for all Goals that ladder-up to the Mission.

Goals page screenshot
Mission statement

Best Practice: Entering Goals

Asana has not (yet) provided a way to reorder (drag and drop) Goals/Sub-Goals so you have to be very methodical in how you enter them or you’ll likely be faced with a lot of retyping.

I recommend first perfecting all your goal titles at all levels and order in a text editor, then pasting each into Asana one-by-one for now.

I started with top-level Goals on the Goals list view page and carefully entered them in reverse order: first I entered the Goal I wanted to appear at the bottom of the Goals list view. I entered the Mission/Goal last so that it appeared at the absolute top.

After that, I proceeded to edit each top-level Goal (this can be done in any sequence) by clicking on the Goal to go to that Goal’s page. Begin adding Sub-Goals (and/or KRs), but unlike for top-level Goals, Sub-Goals are entered in order from top to bottom.

Repeat the above step for further levels of the hierarchy, if needed.

In Closing

Goals are a key, new feature of Asana with full support for OKRs, one of the most powerful tools to help an organization achieve its mission.

Asana’s free ebook The Asana Playbook to OKRs provides one of the best overviews of OKRs generally and as they are implemented in Asana. Use its step-by-step approach along with the best practices given here to achieve all your objectives.

For Asana consulting, contact the author and get more info at Trilogi Solutions.

Trilogi Solutions: Asana Consulting

Asana Certified Pro consulting, training, integrations…

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