Malcolm Gladwell’s The Bakeoff is now online, in which the food R&D firm Mattson tries to create the perfect cookie. Project Delta created three teams: one traditional in-house team, an “XP” (extreme programming) team of two people, and an “open source” dream team of the industry’s best working remotely. For anyone thinking about how to arrange people to create innovative products I’d say it’s a must read primer. With a couple caveats:
- The “open source” and XP methods are for building products, not for inventing new ones. The article illustrates why they don’t work well for inventing new things. We need some vocabulary to distinguish between innovation teams and building teams.
- Either the implementation of the methods or the description of them lacked key elements of what make them work. Open source is not simply an unstructured group of people contributing independent pieces. In Linux, for example, code is tested and reviewed by a central committee. And XP uses structured roles for programming vs. reviewing.
The explanation of getting team size right alone is worth reading the article for. Some expertise on the team is good, but too many people create friction in the process and impedes progress. Also see What Makes Teams Work?