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On Googler's Fear: Getting Big, In The Worst Way

By - November 07, 2006

Chris Sacca opines:

I have worked with engineers from a variety of household-name big companies. Like some universal truth that transcends language, national borders, industries, or even market cycles, I hear the same two things from those in organizations that are no longer innovating: 1) They never get to work on teams smaller than 200 people and 2) They haven’t launched anything in years. Why? They are suffocated by myriad processes, hierarchies, templates, forms, and flow charts.

The leaders of Google have realized…that the company’s own growth would be the biggest challenge and have toiled unflinchingly to build scalable and transparent systems for encouraging the freedom to innovate and collaborate without jumping through some of the unnecessary traditional company hoops. …

…Nevertheless, the potential big company pitfalls are always looming. As the size grows, I see colleagues, particularly those who join Google from other companies, tempted to carve out fiefdoms and mandate SWOT analyses and extensive Excel spreadsheets littered with three letter acronyms. I have seen a few mid-level bosses evoke the traditions of Japanese management and schedule “pre-meetings” to plan, discuss, and approve what will be planned, discussed and approved at the actual meeting itself. MBA-speak creeps into the parlance and these new managers require the filing of more and more TPS reports.

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17 thoughts on “On Googler's Fear: Getting Big, In The Worst Way

  1. Chris Sacca says:

    John, while I appreciate the link, I think you leave out the most important paragraph of my post:

    “The good news? Google’s culture of letting engineers and product folks build great stuff that users want is still winning the day. However, the company needs to remain vigilant and never hesitate to clear the way for inspired people to create the products we all love. For those of you from Google who read my blog, thanks in advance for your help in keeping it a place where freedom to innovate is the rule and not the exception.”

    The point is that Google is still an amazing place, possibly the amazing place, to build great products. I think that gets lost in your excerpt.

  2. Well, it all depends on the style of management of the company. Giants like Microsoft or Toyota still have innovation as one of the major factors for their long term success.

  3. ABC DEF says:

    Your human detector does not allow me even after entering the letter. Never seen such a useless captcha. Finally I have to use fake name.

    Well, it all depends on the style of management of the company. Giants like Microsoft or Toyota still have innovation as one of the major factors for their long term success.

  4. Mikhail says:

    I do agree (not specifically about Google) that a small, tight team does a lot more, more efficiently than one that has layers or covers too much in terms of size of the team itself at any one level of the layers. You just end up trying to set in place processes and tools to understand what the hell is going on instead of doing and providing the expertise to the subordinates in the organisation.

    Just a thought.

  5. Vikram says:

    Creative environment should not be hampered by Bureacracy!!
    If you fall in to the trap of people trying to introduce unknonw rules or procedures or process then thats the endof creativity.
    I Like the google philosophy of reatining the same creative mindset in employee even if its growing!!I hope it is still true !!
    Lets get things right!!Adhere to the companies policies which has got to do with society but lets not create rule to prevent someone doing wonders!!

    The rules of working or game have changed now!!

  6. Vikram says:

    Creative environment should not be hampered by Bureacracy!!
    If you fall in to the trap of people trying to introduce unknown rules or procedures or process then thats the end of creativity.
    I Like the google philosophy of reatining the same creative mindset in employee even if its growing!!I hope it is still true !!
    Lets get things right!!
    Adhere to the companies policies which have to do with society but lets not create rules/process to prevent individuals doing wonders!!

    The rules of working have changed!!

  7. Doug Cutting says:

    Chris Sacca:The point is that Google is still an amazing place, possibly the amazing place, to build great products.

    The phrase, “possibly the amazing place” (emphasis added), shows what makes me worry most about Google: hubris.

  8. Darren says:

    Yes and no. While I, too, have been smothered in the beauracratic bowels of one of the least efficient and most backward thinking Fortune 500 companies, I think we should be careful to jump on the new anti-intellectualism bandwagon.

    Executing successfully on complex projects require more than “by the seat of your pants” planning and “gut feelings” analysis. The greater the complexity of the project, the more planning and analysis it usually requires.

    Would you fly on a new Boeing jet that was designed on a cocktail napkin and built in a hurry with materials that hadn’t been rigorously tested for airline use? Probably not.

    But do you need 160 meetings, 5 focus groups, 7 interdepartmental project teams, and a year of planning and analysis to determine what colors to use in the your new chewing gum print ad? No.

    There’s no question that bringing too much analysis and planning to a problem only adds to the work and stifles progress. However, it’s a gross oversimplification to name planning, analysis, and attention to details as the culprit responsible for stifling innovation in companies (big or small).

    I firmly believe that good management (the people and the practice) is responsible for how many or how few processes, hierarchies, templates, forms, and flow charts are required to meet an objective. Too much, and your competition outpaces you while you suffer from analysis paralysis; too little planning or quality control, and you launch a buggy flop which destroys your brand and maybe your company. Good management knows the difference (most of the time).

    BTW, I think your book is great. Thanks for documenting one of the most important histories of the new economy.

  9. Darren says:

    Yes and no. While I, too, have been smothered in the beauracratic bowels of one of the least efficient and most backward thinking Fortune 500 companies, I think we should be careful to jump on the new anti-intellectualism bandwagon.

    Executing successfully on complex projects require more than “by the seat of your pants” planning and “gut feelings” analysis. The greater the complexity of the project, the more planning and analysis it usually requires.

    Would you fly on a new Boeing jet that was designed on a cocktail napkin and built in a hurry with materials that hadn’t been rigorously tested for airline use? Probably not.

    But do you need 160 meetings, 5 focus groups, 7 interdepartmental project teams, and a year of planning and analysis to determine what colors to use in the your new chewing gum print ad? No.

    There’s no question that bringing too much analysis and planning to a problem only adds to the work and stifles progress. However, it’s a gross oversimplification to name planning, analysis, and attention to details as the culprit responsible for stifling innovation in companies (big or small).

    I firmly believe that good management (the people and the practice) is responsible for how many or how few processes, hierarchies, templates, forms, and flow charts are required to meet an objective. Too much, and your competition outpaces you while you suffer from analysis paralysis; too little planning or quality control, and you launch a buggy flop which destroys your brand and maybe your company. Good management knows the difference (most of the time).

    BTW, I think your book is great. Thanks for documenting one of the most important histories of the new economy.

  10. Missing from this discussion is the point that formal process and sound software management practices can often save the engineers from their own mistakes caused by a lack of oversight, introspection and evaluation. Geniuses don’t seem to suffer from these problems, but Google is quickly running low on geniuses. Software construction by the rest of use still requires an amount of this “Bureaucracy” in order to get the job done right, on time, the first time.

  11. Also one should note the importance of ‘company culture’. When a company starts growing and recruits new hires for new projects under demanding conditions, it is very difficult to maintain the ‘company culture’ which has significant impact on the success of the company.

  12. Michelle says:

    And one should not forget the significance of the company culture on its success. It is very difficult to maintain the company culture and values when any company starts growing at a rapid pace.

  13. gulag says:

    I worked for Google in Europe for a year up until very recently and I can confidently say I have never seen more people doing less productive or meaningful work (myself included)in my life.

    Meetings are endless and inane, every conversation is riddled with acronyms and precisely the bullshit MBA speak mentioned above, products are poorly understood internally and internal documentation and communication is laughable.

    The idea that Google are some bunch of enormous pulsating brains light years ahead of the curve is frankly laughable if you’ve ever worked there. Plus the pay is lousy. Plus the 20% thing is an absolute myth. And for the poster above, if you think they’re arrogant from the outside, you should check it out inside. Arrogant doesn’t even come close.

    my 2 cents, from someone who actually worked for these clowns rather than gently tickling their ass with a big goofy grin in the blogosphere

  14. Andy says:

    I thought you might want to check out Compete.com blog that has a posting today about the top search engines and the most popular searches on those sites for the past month.

    http://blog.compete.com/index.php/2006/11/08/search-market-share-google-youtube-yahoo-msn-dogpile/

    blog.compete.com

  15. laura says:

    Your human detector does not allow me even after entering the letter. Never seen such a useless captcha. Finally I have to use fake name.

    Well, it all depends on the style of management of the company. Giants like Microsoft or Toyota still have innovation as one of the major factors for their long term success.

  16. Vikram says:

    So guys whats the best working practices in present day working environmnent?

    Company culuture yes its important but if your bosses dont want to get synchronised with the present days of working.

    Its all abt results and ever changing environment we live in.
    If u are not adaptable changeable then we are out of competition.

  17. aishwarya says:

    I think this small and fast company funda is profitable to some extent. But things start breaking up when you grow. Google would have to show that it can beat msft in innovation even when it becomes its’ size (50K+ engineers).