Thursday, February 01, 2018

Google's 20% Innovation time and culture of courage

I was listening to Eric Schmidt's podcast today, and he was sharing about various experiments Google took to bring the cultural change @scale.
When organisations are "small" like in a startup environment, it is easier to manage the culture as compared to large organisations. Successful organisations seem to give a lot of importance to consciously building the right culture.
While Google was expanding rapidly, the leadership saw the teams buckling under the pressure of software deliveries thus sacrificing experimental culture, in turn, the innovation. I am sure you all agree that it might be happening in many of your companies as you are reading this post.
You might have noticed that I have highlighted two words in the above paragraph: bucklingand innovation. Google's top leadership observed the developers "buckling" under pressure as a sign of a culture in which the teams don't have the courage to speak up.
Google wanted a culture where engineers can look into the eyes of their managers and speak courageously about the importance of experimentations and innovation. The introduction of 20% of innovation time seems to be one of the ideas that were tried to inculcate the courageous culture in the system to empower the engineers.
There are many lessons that we can learn from this story:
  1. Successful organisations consciously manage the culture
  2. 20% of innovation time was part of the hundreds of experiments Google tried and failed at it. It showed employees that it is ok to fail but important to persist and continue the experimentation
  3. I know many companies copied the 20% innovation time idea when it was published and also, I don't think they never understood the context behind this idea.
  4. Experimentation, empowering the teams and creating a fail safe environment seems to be some of the foundational ideas that Google's leadership encourages in their company. Question: How many leaders in your company have consciously brought such changes and encouraging the experimentation culture ?
  5. Don't copy practices from other companies as they are context dependent.
Now let me the switch topic to a bit of selling mode as there are a lot of similarities in what Large-Scale Scrum(LeSS) recommends and most of the successful companies follow. The process of experimentation is highly encouraged in LeSS. In fact, LeSS is built on top of 600 experiments. Failing fast, learning fast and building a resilient systems is the core of LeSS.

I would be covering in-depth LeSS and its experimentation culture based on the empirical process control and Systems Thinking in my upcoming Certified LeSS Practitioner course in Melbourne from Aug 21st for 3 days. Please register for the course here and only a few seats left.

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