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Square Pegs, Round Holes: Reshaping OKRs for Hard Tech Startups

Establishing clear objectives and key results (OKRs) is crucial when achieving success in hard tech startups. But too often, startups adopt processes designed for larger, more established organizations. It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole—forcing a solution that isn’t tailored to the unique needs of a startup.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the importance of following the spirit of OKRs while embracing a more agile, adaptive approach, particularly for hard tech startups and small innovation teams.

What are OKRs?

OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, is a goal-setting framework used by organizations to define, track, and measure their strategic objectives. Objectives are high-level, qualitative goals that align with an organization’s mission and vision, while Key Results are quantifiable, time-bound metrics used to measure progress toward the objectives. OKRs promote focus, alignment, and transparency by ensuring that everyone in the organization knows and works towards the same goals.

The Pitfalls of Blindly Implementing Big Company Processes

Just as a new tech venture shouldn’t blindly adopt a tech stack designed for a large corporation, they shouldn’t adopt OKRs in the same rigid manner. For example, implementing microservices or big data stacks may work wonders for a global enterprise, but it can prove cumbersome and inefficient for a startup.

Similarly, following a stringent OKR framework for larger organizations can stifle innovation, hinder flexibility, and create unnecessary bureaucracy. Instead, startups should embrace the essence of OKRs, customizing them better to suit their agile nature and rapid growth trajectories.

Monthly Pseudo OKRs: A Tailored Approach for Agile Startups

Adopting a monthly pseudo-OKR system for hard tech startups can be an excellent alternative to traditional OKR models. This approach meshes well with the monthly all-hands meetings, where leadership sets the theme and mission for the month. Here’s how it works:

Set Clear, Yet Flexible, Objectives

At the beginning of each month, establish a clear objective for the organization. Keep it specific and ambitious, but allow room for adjustments as new challenges and opportunities arise. This will ensure that your startup remains agile and adaptable.

Define Key Results

Identify key results that will help you measure progress toward your objective. These results should be quantifiable, time-bound, and achievable within the month. Remember, in a rapidly evolving environment, it’s essential to strike a balance between ambition and realism.

Empower Teams

Encourage teams to take ownership of their OKRs and develop their action plans. This fosters a sense of responsibility and engagement while also promoting cross-functional collaboration.

Review and Iterate

At the end of the month, assess your progress, celebrate successes, and learn from failures. Use these insights to inform your next month’s objectives and key results. This constant feedback loop is vital for maintaining momentum and fostering continuous improvement.


Adopting a more agile, tailored approach to OKRs can be a game-changer for hard tech startups and small innovation teams. By focusing on the spirit of OKRs—setting ambitious objectives, defining key results, empowering teams, and continuously iterating—you’ll create a dynamic, adaptable environment where innovation thrives.

Flexibility is critical: Don’t be afraid to adjust your objectives and key results to stay on track and meet the ever-changing demands of the hard tech world.

Nicholas Nadeau, Ph.D., P.Eng.
Nicholas Nadeau, Ph.D., P.Eng.
Founder / Fractional CTO

Nicholas Nadeau is a fractional CTO empowering startups with next-gen technology expertise, and a passion for driving corporate innovation. Stay informed on cutting-edge hard tech trends - subscribe to my newsletter. Ready to innovate? Discover my services and accelerate your growth.