Four ways – and two pizzas – to build innovation in corporate culture

Four ways to build a corporate culture that fosters innovation

Imagine a company culture that rewards experimentation, uses mechanisms for working backwards, offers corporate tools to scale innovation, and supports right-size teams to maintain agility. These are key pillars of innovation at our company. To be competitive in 2022, many AWS partners and customers in Europe, Middle East, and Africa are also building on these four pillars to unlock their own success and create a corporate culture that is truly focused on enabling technology.

Two-pizza teams for agility

As a business leader, making sure you and your customers have great technology is only half the story of a successful business. Leaders must also create a people culture geared toward realizing the full potential of modern technology.

AWS, perhaps rather famously, follows the “two-pizza team” principle. A two-pizza team is a cross-functional team that consists of seven or eight people – an ideal-sized group to share two large pizzas. The idea is to create a start-up-like group that is responsible for an idea from start to finish.

Many small organizations involve everyone in the business in innovation, regardless of their role or background. As an organization grows, maintaining that diversity of perspective becomes challenging. We are not a small organization, so to capture cross-functional perspectives and benefit from multidisciplinary and multiskilled decision making, we use two-pizza teams. Often, the intersecting point where diverse skills meet is the most fertile ground for innovation.

In addition, smaller teams enable faster development and stronger ownership of each idea. The two-pizza team principle is key to ensuring that companies can still benefit from the speed and agility of a start-up, even if your business is a large organization.

Has your company set the right size for each team’s agility?

Rewards for experimentation

At AWS, we see the greatest successes coming from organizations with corporate culture where leaders encourage everyone to experiment for their customers. Developing new solutions should lead people to experiment, quickly test ideas, learn from them, and move on.

Testing new solutions is essential to successful innovation. However, an organization must have a desire to experiment. The Kindle is a good example of having an appetite for experimentation. The market offered some popular digital e-readers before Amazon patented the Kindle. However, for Amazon, the goal wasn’t to sell e-readers; the ambition was to give customers worldwide access to books within 60 seconds.

Many people found it perplexing that Amazon created its own competitor as the company already sold paper books. But Amazon wasn’t afraid to experiment with digital content and e-readers, because Kindle resulted from listening to what customers wanted. In the end, both digital and paper book businesses are thriving.

Ohpen, a Dutch independent software vendor (ISV) built by former bankers, turned their deep knowledge of their customers into their main service. Knowing the drawbacks of traditional banking information technology (IT) systems, Ohpen helps their customers reinvent their banking software by freeing them from legacy systems and deploying their solutions entirely in our Cloud.

Ohpen provides banks with a modular platform for administering retail mutual funds and savings accounts for consumers that are 100 percent reliable, 100 percent adaptable, and 100 percent compliant. The company translated their customer knowledge into business success. Being customer obsessed means organizing development processes around customers, which influences innovation every step of the way.

Does your workplace encourage employees to experiment and try new ideas?

Mechanisms for working backwards

Good intentions alone don’t get important jobs done; to develop and test new ideas, mechanisms can help. A mechanism is a well-defined business process or productivity tool, like Amazon’s Working Backwards process and framework. At our company, working backwards means all ideas start from the customers’ perspective.

One working backwards technique is to present each new business idea as a written press release. The press release includes a problem statement, description of the proposed solution, explanation on how the solution solves the problem, and an imagined customer quote.

In our business, this frames the challenge, clarifies the opportunity, and explains why the idea will delight customers. When using a working backwards mechanism of your own, four crucial customer details must be addressed: who the customer is, the customer’s challenge or opportunity, what part of the idea is most important to the customer, and what the customer experience will look like.

As a follow-up to the press release, our teams then create a frequently asked questions (FAQ) component, which team members contribute to throughout the innovation process. Each FAQ is a living document that drives the development team to anticipate and answer customer questions as early as possible. A strong FAQ clarifies ideas, anticipates questions from leadership and customers, and serves as a guide if the business decides to invest in building the solution.

Working backwards is a core mechanism in the initial innovative journey. It helps teams determine early whether an idea merits the minimum investment to build, which saves time and money. It also helps businesses put themselves in their customers’ shoes and explore the problem from the consumers’ perspective. This mechanism brilliantly keeps customer outcomes top of mind.

Does your company have mechanisms for working backwards?

Corporate agility for scaling innovation

We set no boundaries on who can innovate. Everyone in your business, regardless of their role or level, has the potential to invent. This decentralized approach means that you can have limitless ideas springing up across the company. Then, if your business has a team of builders, you can encourage them to take those ideas and do what they do best – build.

At our offices, even our products and services are decentralized and independent. This enables agility and supports fast scaling internally and externally for our customers. We base our solutions on microservices, an architectural approach to software development where software is composed of small, independent services that communicate over well-defined application programming interfaces (APIs). Instead of one monolith, we use interlocking building blocks, like Legos.

Nordcloud enables clients to navigate their migration to the cloud, to adopt a more agile and innovative project lifecycle. They helped the Raiffeisen International Bank to transform their IT systems into a scalable, resilient, and fast cloud solution. In doing so, Nordcloud capitalized on AWS microservices by providing a tailored solution for the Raiffeisen International Bank, enabling it to revolutionize its services and ways of working.

Real change was delivered both internally and externally. The AWS-powered innovation now allows a dispersed team to seamlessly develop and deliver financial services applications. The previously used monolithic and stiff IT banking infrastructure didn’t allow for flexibility or improve security. By deploying AWS solutions, Nordcloud enabled Raiffeisen International Bank to reinvent its IT architecture into an agile system, with an even stronger security solution.

Many employees at Nordcloud were involved in forming ideas and innovating. Does your company have ways of scaling innovation?

Innovation as company DNA 

While business’s pillars of innovation vary, embracing a corporate culture built on innovation enables companies to refine their business models and implement best practices. In 2023, standing still is not an option. No matter how much your company grows and expands, a start-up mentality can keep your teams aligned to your business’s cultural DNA.

Leaders are tenacious in vision, but they must be flexible on the details. The pillars of your corporate culture are your compass, consistently guiding you to innovations that delight your customers.