Sunday, December 8, 2013

Innovation Week Recap

I previously posted about our leadup to Innovation Week, which ended up being more like Innovation Week-and-a-half because it shifted a sprint ending the week of Christmas, which is pretty sparsely attended due to everyone being out of town.

The 10 days of innovation ended up being much more successful than I had thought possible. There was some very out of the box thinking, both in the realm of infrastructure and analytics, and some of these ideas have huge potential to shift how we think about big data.

The reasons I thought that things might not go so well (and what ended up happening):

  1. Lack of ideas. At the time I wrote the last post, we were up to 6. We topped out at 14, all well thought out and presented. We had to narrow the ideas down to 5 based on peoples availability -- we did that with a team-wide vote 
  2. Lack of managment: we -- the management team --  had specifically decided to let the teams be self organizing, and not interfere with them even if we saw them go off the rails. No one went off the rails, and teams organized around the work and the capabilities of the team members. We did make ourselves available for questions/advice, but other than that we sat back and observed. 
  3. Technical roadblocks: the ideas we ended up voting in (as an entire team) had some steep technical hurdles. I wasn't sure if the teams could overcome those, and wasn't sure what they would do if they couldn't. Every team had at least one significant roadblock that they worked around with little to no guidance. 
  4. I'm as pessimist realist, and tend to prepare for worse case scenarios. Apparently I overestimate myself and my management team's contributions :)
The presentations were great in that all except for one were  live demos of working software -- one key difference between this and standard demos is that the teams owned the ideas and were therefore much more invested in how the demos went.

We're taking the top  ideas and starting new work that will get prioritized against existing deliverables. While I'm obviously excited about the ideas, some of which I consider to be fundamental game changers, I'm just as excited because of  what I learned  about leading teams. 

Our best ideas come from our people, and when we guide them and set the target, they crush it.  As management our primary job should be to clearly communicate a vision of where the team needs to be, inspire them by giving them ownership and autonomy, and get obstacles out of their way.  

Sometimes I feel like the best teams are the ones that build up ideas the way Barca moves the ball down the field:
 

There is no 'central control', there is just the idea -- the ball -- and the team, which supports each other as they move the ball downfield, and the magic that happens because the team is focused on doing what it takes to move the ball, develop the attack, and put together a combination that finishes in the opponent's net. What blows me away is that each of these players has amazing skill but they are so much more effective with one touch passing and holding the triangle. I see the same thing on engineering teams that work well together. The top talent doesn't hold onto the ideas, they share them and make themselves available to move it along, and in doing so bring everyone up to their level. Seeing that happen without explicit guidance was the best part of Innovation Week for me.




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