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From Innovation Lab to Innovative Engineering

Innovation / Experiment

26 August, 2021

Anna Nicanorova
Anna Nicanorova

CTO at Annalect

Anna Nicanorova, VP of Engineering at Annalect, shares her experiences motivating her team to give their best performances through innovation.

Problem

In every company, there is always the “cool” team that gets to work on cutting edge projects and moonshot initiatives. Different companies have different names for the teams - labs, R&D, innovation squad. While that team is tasked with rapid innovation, everyone else in the company usually gets stuck with the maintenance of the existing operations of the core product portfolio. The problem was how to allow not only this selected number of “cool kids” to do “cool things”? How can we ensure that everyone on the engineering team gets to learn something new and invent something for the benefit of the company?

Actions taken

Before leading the engineering team, I was leading our R&D team- Annalect Labs. On one hand I had a small, dynamic group of people comfortable learning a new piece of software within days and pulling an all-nighter to finish a prototype. On another, now I was leading multiple engineering teams producing scalable enterprise software but at a much slower pace. So I had collapsed both teams, choosing to dissolve labs in favour of a more innovative core engineering team.

In the absence of labs, now everyone was forced to innovate. I have taken the systems and ceremonies that we have used at labs and brought them to the core team: workshops, hands-on immersion days, hackathons, experimentation days. Of course, it was much slower to learn and adopt technology with a bigger team dedicated to maintaining the company’s vital product line. However with proper planning and scheduling now I had the whole engineering team being familiar with the latest technology that they could bring to the core product, ensuring that our software stays up-to-date.

Lessons learned

  • Having all core teams innovate, instead of just one dedicated squad team, ensures that all team members grow, learn something new and update their skillset. Instead of a handful of people who know a new framework, we can ensure that the whole engineering team can be learners and innovators.
  • Teams who are charged with disrupting a new service sometimes have little domain knowledge, while the existing team can use acquired domain expertise to evolve the existing product. Business continuity is easier achieved if the innovation is implemented by an existing team of engineers.
  • The place for creativity should be everywhere. Allowing people to experiment and be creative helps grow organizational culture that drives constant improvement.

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