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As software continues to develop at rapid speed, the hunger for innovation has grown in direct correlation.

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Without the newest, game-changing features and products, it can be easy for an organization to fall behind its competitors; but what makes an organization innovative? And can it begin with the engineering teams?

In Placing engineering at the heart of innovation, this idea is explored in-depth. The content in this series looks at what it takes to embed a culture of innovation; from the level of trust that leaders need to have in their engineers, to the planning approaches they should be taking.

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Episode 1: Assign problems (not work) to your teams to build extraordinary products

In this article, Raphaela Wrede highlights how the creativity of engineers is being stifled due to a limited method of task assignment: ‘Product managers should be assigning their teams problems to solve instead of predefined work to get done’. Raphaela states that teams who are only dealt the latter are perpetually disempowered, leading to the stagnation of their product development.

Raphaela describes the differences between building with a disempowered team versus building with an empowered team. From her own experience of this, Raphaela explores the difference in team engagement, level of risk, and the power of unlocking creativity and innovation with an experimentation mindset.

Episode 2: Trusting the instincts of engineers to foster a culture of innovation

Edoardo Turelli brings the approach of Tetromino planning – ‘a novel approach to plan-and-deliver innovation’ – to the forefront of this article, exploring the impact it can have on a company’s innovation. 

‘Through the exercise of unorthodox planning, the software engineers can be guided to transform their intuitions into tangible outcomes that will be delivered.’ Edoardo particularly focuses on the effect of leading the planning with these criteria: ‘maximize developers’ impact and embrace the engineers’ natural flow.’ Following these two guidelines, he deep dives into how a project that uses malleable planning, rather than a fixed plan, allows space for innovation to develop and helps prevent the struggles that embedding a new culture can create.

Episode 3: Strategies for creating cultures of innovation in engineering teams

As previously mentioned, competition is increasing at a more rapid rate than ever, and companies need to innovate to remain viable. But innovation isn’t just a technical problem, it’s also a human one. And if a safe environment hasn’t been established, engineers are less likely to do the inherently risky work that innovation requires.

This conversation centered around creating a culture that supports this risky work, with our panelists – David Antaramian (Software Engineering Manager at PepsiCo eCommerce), Jessica Rudder (Application Engineer at GitHub), and Amy Yu (VP of Product Strategy and Data Science at Viacom) – and moderator – Kevin Goldsmith (CTO at Anaconda) – discussing their own experiences of doing so.

During this discussion, our panelists explored:

  • The cultural elements they’ve created in their teams to support innovation;
  • The obstacles they have overcome to enable a culture of innovation;
  • The importance of establishing a safe environment for learning;
  • Where to start when encouraging more innovation in a team;
  • How to build innovation in a non-innovative team/organization.

Episode 4: Why our engineering teams are our innovation teams

‘A team led by, and consisting of, growth-minded engineers is likely the best antidote to the risks that face today's technology initiatives.’ In this article, Henry Mori hones in on the powerful relationship between cultivating a growth mindset among your engineers and exercising the approach of incremental delivery. 

When these two practices are combined, it allows for a greater chance of success as engineers are encouraged to test, learn, and improve. Henry explains that ‘A great engineer...continually pushes one’s comfort zone into new areas of professional growth’. When this is supported, engineers can keep up with the pace of the ever-evolving tech industry, consequently allowing innovation to prosper. 

A final takeaway

It is clear that fostering a culture of innovation takes courage and an increased amount of trust in a team. But as Henry Mori states, ‘what awaits will be a productive, professionally-fulfilled engineering team, deftly delivering business value with little-to-no wasted effort.’ 

The content provided in this series aims to make the journey towards innovation easier by dissecting the approaches that should be taken, and championing why engineers should be kept at the heart of projects. Engineering leaders should be recognizing the ability of their team, allowing engineers the opportunity to drive innovation within product development through incremental delivery in a safe learning environment.

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Why our engineering teams are our innovation teams
Episode 04 Why our engineering teams are our innovation teams
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