Google Hunkers Down on Software Projects with 'Innovation Reviews'

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-06-18 Print this article Print

What's going on with Google? Well, according to comScore's fresh May stats, the company has a whopping 65 percent search share worldwide. But comScore also said Bing is moving up the search engine charts, at least in the first three weeks of its life.

So here comes the Wall Street Journal with another state of Google piece signaling a key strategy shift. Google CEO Eric Schmidt told Jessica Vascellaro he is afraid Google's normally hands-off approach to managing product teams is letting good ideas stagnate or slip out the door in the mass exodus of frustrated Googlers whose mental seeds can't find purchase in the giant Google garden.

Hmmm. This comes months after promising to curtail Google's dark matter, or unimportant projects that talented engineers are working on.

Now Schmidt said Google's executives are paying closer attention to what they think is important. Supposedly, we'll be seeing the golden wheat separated from the golden chaff. Vascellaro wrote (paywall warning):

The Mountain View, Calif., company famously lets its engineers spend one day a week on projects that aren't part of their jobs. But Google has lacked a formal process for senior executives to review those efforts, and some ideas have languished. Others have slipped away when employees left the company. The moves are a shift for Google. Previously, its early-stage projects weren't systematically vetted by top executives. Employees with a new idea would lobby their bosses for resources and time. Once approved, a project could linger or die without getting much attention from senior management.

So Google is holding meetings, or rather "innovation reviews," where Schmidt and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin listen to product pitches from executives. Google Wave, Google wants us to believe, is one such project fast-tracked to the limelight. The real-time collaboration program is a Web-based Lotus Notes of sorts.

But the result has also included the botched Google Apps for Outlook Sync project, which broke Microsoft Windows Desktop Search and other Microsoft plug-ins when it was installed. Perhaps, hungry to impress the elder statesmen trifecta, Google's Apps team jumped the gun a little quickly on that one.

What do we learn from this? The corporatization of Google continues. Companies such as Microsoft and IBM wouldn't dream of letting their employees putz around with projects and would be mortified if good talent slipped away. Until now, Google has been pretty lackadaisical regarding the 20% projects and has treated employee defections with a shoulder shrug.

On one hand, it's good to see Google's management, well, actually manage its staff and make them accountable for their time. On the other hand, you have to believe the sudden strictures might prove anathema to those who came to Google for the very independence it pledged allegiance to for a decade. It will almost certainly scare off those who expect a "startup environment." Those halcyon days appear over, as Vascellaro noted:

Google needs new products to jumpstart its growth. While it remains a juggernaut with one-third of all U.S. advertising dollars spent online, its year-over-year revenue growth has slowed from 56% in 2007 to 31% in 2008 and was just 6% in the first quarter of this year.

With Microsoft Bing, Twitter, Facebook and others coming on strong, Google has to slip on its game face.

Also, why the hell is no one else writing about this yet? :) I'm at a loss at the void on TechMeme. |

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