Here at Maniak, we have almost eleven years of building different kinds of awesome stuff. More recently, we've specialized in building web and mobile apps for many different kinds of clients. This led to the full extent of our workforce being focused on client projects. There's nearly fifty of us, but we're usually so busy churning out code and design that sometimes we don't have people available to focus on our internal opportunities, and we can only juggle so many things at once.
There's many more things to a project other than just getting the work done. This is usually what sets great projects apart from ok projects. The really outstanding teams out there pay attention to everything from the context and documentation to future improvements and the personal well-being of the team members. Bigger, older companies have usually figured out after years of trial and error that investing in growth and innovation pays off.
What does growth mean?
When we talk about "growth", we're not just talking about business opportunities. Every workplace has room to grow. Maybe you started out with a company that was just you and your brother in a garage, and now there's a hundred of you and you need to give them performance reviews and bonuses. That's growth!
But it's not just the amount of people or how many simultaneous projects you're developing either. Growth also means your organization being a mean, lean, efficiency machine. Not to mention external opportunities for new and interesting things to do might be passing you by! Having a team of people dedicated to figuring that stuff out can be crucial when your business model lies elsewhere and/or you're super busy with other stuff all the time.
When you stop growing, things get boring, and you die
Remember Blockbuster? It was probably the single place I loved the most in the world and Netflix straight up killed it. If they had foreseen the upcoming mess, we might still have a place to hang out and buy really cheap used movies. Innovation seems like a nice to have until it isn't.
Our GI team's week can be filled with many different kinds of tasks! We've helped update the recruitment profiles for different positions in the company, coordinated and helped create meaningful project documentation, held company-wide town hall meetings and coordinated merch design and manufacture. Not everything has to be a game-changing spin on your business model. Just keep moving! As my hero Terence McKenna says: "Take it easy, dude, but take it!" Thankfully, our workplace never shies away from a challenge and is wide open to different ideas (this blog and our podcast network are living proof of that).
There's always something to be improved
An innovation department should be permanently on the lookout for the pain points in a company's structure and organization. It's not about doing things faster, but about making things easier for everybody involved; from developers to project managers and all the way to upper management. If there's one true thing about working with humans is nothing is ever the best that it can be. This is what work is. We solve problems and the solutions to those problems cause their own, hopefully smaller, set of problems. No solution is perfect, and no problem is unsolvable, and external circumstances can always affect the roadmap of a company's growth.
In my experience, there are projects that seem so toweringly massive that it's hard to know where to start. The first hurdle to leap over might be to identify what the basic underlying issue is, and that's difficult to do. This is what I think a growth and/or innovation department should focus on. They must be quick and analytical, with a keen eye for possible improvement.
If it ain't broke, don't assign people to try to fix it
Finally, one of the most difficult things once you get into the rhythm of things will be to not see a problem everywhere. Even though there might be many different roads you can go down, it's better to solve the root of many problems, than to establish many different small solutions. Also, limit your scope so that you're not just eternally stuck in a loop with the same project. Get in, do your research, develop a solution and move on.
I wholeheartedly believe in constant improvement and side-projects. It could be said that I love side projects more than main projects. Your constant search for growth and diversity might be what makes your workplace interesting and attractive. No one has ever said "Oh, that place is boring. They're too innovative." Find yourselves people who look out for what you could be doing better and give them the time and resources to fix it. If my workload is any indication, there's probably a lot of things to look at.
If you have any questions about growth and innovation and why they're important to you and your loved ones, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find me at twitter and instagram as @nikolasmurdock where I innovate on other things (mostly cat videos and music)