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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Culture of Innovativeness

Last week I attended a conference called Innovative Management. My friend commented “There can be nothing innovative on conference which has innovative word in its title.” I can’t say my expectations were much higher. Imagine people from big telecoms, big TV stations, big internet portals and big banks talking about innovation in their companies…

They will tell you about company culture which supports innovation. They will tell you they have to fail sometimes on their road to innovation. They will tell you about setting goals to people and letting them to find the way how those goals can be achieved. They will tell you how much time of their teams spend on innovation.

Bullshit.

I’ve seen there several of those companies live. I’ve worked or work with them. They’re our current or past customers. I’ve seen their teams. I’ve been working with them. They show nothing of above values their CTOs, CEOs and VPs are talking about. But they perfectly now how to play it safe. Procedures, ass-protectors, beaten paths. Creativity, risk and accepting failure (from time to time) aren’t on the list.

Top management from big companies is completely disconnected from people working in their companies. OK, they know how their firms should act to be innovative but do nothing to implement it down there in their organizations. I was shocked talking to people from fairly small company (a couple hundreds of people) which has exactly the same problem. I can bet they don’t know what problems their most creative people have. They don’t know about the rest of people problems either, but that’s another story.

To be honest I don’t know how big players deal with that problem. I’d love to see Steve Jobs not when he gives presentation prepared for weeks but during his everyday work. Google tries to flatten company’s structure and so far it works quite well. Microsoft became fat and lazy several years ago, so they’ve failed already. Anyway, I don’t know the recipe for big companies.

My recipe is a small company. Then that’s super-easy. You just know how your people work. You know if they’re playing safe or rather trying to improve their project or product. You co-decide how they’re promoted for creativity and how they’re punished for failures. Sure when you grow it’s harder and harder to keep an order and you need more formalism, but as far as you work in small company exploit your chances to be quicker and more flexible. Big players won’t catch you. They just can’t.

in: software business

3 comments… add one

  • Craig December 3, 2007, 3:04 pm

    Pawell,

    Third paragraph: Yep.

    What can large companies do? I think the easiest thing is to outsource a part of the innovation work – by buying start-ups (like Google) or by partnering with small innovators in JVs.

    Nonetheless, big companies have to constantly fight to keep innovation as a valued attribute and so whether it’s well implemented or not it remains important for CEOs and CIOs to say that it’s important.

    Craig

  • Don Kim December 3, 2007, 9:15 pm

    Insightful post, but my take is that innovation usually occurs during the beginning phase of a company, and starts to diminish more and more as the company grows. This is in no doubt due to the company becoming more conservative so as not to lose market share they worked so hard to obtain.

    Your example of Google is not really valid, as their exclusive focus has been on generating ad links, rather then exclusively on innovation.

    -Don Kim
    http://www.donkim.info

  • Pawel Brodzinski December 4, 2007, 1:43 am

    Google does much to cultivate innovativeness. 20% projects, flat structure (teams going up to 50 people under a single manager), focus on finding creative people during recruitment process, sacred cows made out of developers. Most of smaller companies don’t do as much.

    But yes, they’re focusing on status quo (ads and search engine). Fortunately they’re already rich enough to spend big bucks on creative things their people try to do.

    As the company grows, and Google will grow, it will be harder to keep the culture. I’m not very revealing to say that in several years from now Google will be in a place Microsoft is now. And we don’t consider Microsoft as innovative company any more.

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