Sunday, August 16, 2009

Eliminate The Development Machine to Increase Innovation

In my quest for knowledge and insight about how great companies are managed, I've been reading "The Google Way" one of the, I'm sure, myriad of books that purports to explain all of the things that make Google amazing.

One of this weekend's insights was the following:

A lot of good ideas (and a few great ones) come from rank-and-file employees.

In a "traditional" organization, many of these ideas are overlooked. Great ideas are supposed to be generated by people tasked with dreaming up the products of the future, the select few "tinkerers" in advanced engineering or some elite department of marketing. These ideas are then evaluated in committee, picked apart, perhaps improved, and documented. The few ideas that survive this process are then given to a marketing organization to see if a business case can be made for these projects.

In an organization like Google, the leadership believes that ideas are generated everywhere. Idea generation is encouraged and expected of all employees. The most obvious way this philosophy shows up is in the policy that engineers may devote 20% of their time to working on their own projects. Some of these projects have died, but some became Google's better known products. Would gMail or Google Maps have died in committee at a traditional organization? Likely; neither has a direct connection to Google's core business of search.

In my organization, most of the good process improvements (by which I mean changes in the way code is developed, not institutionalized processes) came from rogue engineers who were spending time working with tools beneath the radar of management. Software engineering at my division is special in that the developers are given a lot more freedom than in other parts of the company and it shows; many other development centers come to us for advice and are interested in adopting our best practices. Unfortunately, the "product development process" that we use ensures that no product ideas that come from the rank-and-file engineers will see the light of day . . . and I believe that will ultimately cost us as talent goes elsewhere.

How does your organization work? Do you feel like you are encouraged to explore newer and better ways of working? Have any new products come out of your rank-and-file?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Debunking Myths about Public Healthcare - Part 1

I had originally planned for one huge blog post about public healthcare, but have since decided to split it up into a number of smaller posts, owing to me being quite busy this time of year. I think that it is shameful that we are one of the few (if not the only) developed nations that does not have universal healthcare. The majority of the country wants a public healthcare option (75% according to a recent NBC/WSJ poll . . . Google it). These posts are part of my contribution to the public discussion.

Objection: Countries with universal healthcare make people wait in line for services.

This has been used as a scare tactic for many years. Yes, Canada and other countries that have universal healthcare do ration care. If you need to have an elective procedure, you wait in line until your turn come up. This is not really different than in the United States . . . for a routine physical, I need to schedule an appointment with my doctor at least eight months in advance. My dentist requires six months. I've never had to have non-emergency surgery, but I'm sure that I can't just walk into my local hospital and demand to be serviced that day.

We ration care in the United States, but we don't ration it in a way that promotes the overall health of our population; we ration it based on who can pay the most. That means that, if a millionaire wants a nose job, s/he can and will get care before a poor person who needs cancer screening. Under our system, doctors who do elective plastic surgery make more than primary care physicians who work with patients to keep them healthy. I can't imagine any framework in which this makes sense.

Care should be prioritized/rationed based on what is most effective at keeping people healthy. Countries with a public healthcare system can do this because, under a public system, there is no incentive to chase after a profit.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Oh, Delta (Rant)

I'm taking a trip out to Seattle to see my cousin, Cody, get married. I'm flying Northwest Airlines, but some of my flights were operated by Delta. Today, the flight (Delta) from DSM to SLC got canceled and my itinerary was replace with the following:

Fri  4SEP Delta 6151*          LV Des Moines, IA    (DSM)  730A Coach
AR Cincinnati, OH (CVG) 1014A
*operated by Freedom Airlines Inc
Fri 4SEP Delta 1424 LV Salt Lake City, U (SLC) 830A Coach
AR Portland, OR (PDX) 922A
Fri 4SEP Delta 1419 LV Cincinnati, OH (CVG) 1225P Coach
AR Salt Lake City, U (SLC) 212P
Fri 4SEP Alaska Airlines 2142 LV Portland, OR (PDX) 1030A Coach
AR Seattle, WA (SEA) 1120A

At first glance, I was happy that they still had me getting into Seattle at 11:20am, as I have plans for that afternoon. But, upon closer inspection, they had me getting into Salt Lake City at 2:12pm and leaving at 8:30am.

My question is: How do things like this happen?

Fortunately, Northwest Airlines was able to fix my itinerary with a phone call, but, seriously . . . if this is what I should expect from Delta, I'm not excited.