Four ways to build a business culture that fosters innovation

Thomas Blood, below, EMEA Digital Innovation Leader, Amazon Web Services discusses how an innovation-based company culture helps businesses adopt best practices and maximize their impact

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 AWS. 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 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 startup-like group 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. AWS is 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 startup, 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 workplace 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 an 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 Amazon created its own competitor as it was already selling paper books. But the Kindle resulted from listening to what customers wanted and, 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 AWS Cloud. Ohpen provides banks with a modular platform for administering retail mutual funds and savings accounts for consumers that are 100% reliable, adaptable, and compliant.. 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 AWS, all ideas start from the customers’ perspective. One technique of delivering this is presenting new business ideas as a written press release including a problem statement, description and explanation of the proposed solution and an imagined customer quote. This frames the challenge, clarifies opportunities, and delights customers.

Using 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 visualising the customer experience. AWS teams then create frequently asked questions, a living document that team contribute to throughout the innovation process, anticipating customer questions as soon as possible. Doing so, clarifies ideas and serves as an investment guide for prospective customers. Working backwards helps determine whether an idea merits minimum investments, saving time and money. Does your company have mechanisms for working backwards?

Corporate agility for scaling innovation

At AWS, everyone regardless of role has the potential to invent, meaning all 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). Like Legos, , we use interlocking building blocks.

For example, Nordcloud enables clients to navigate cloud migration and adopt a more agile project lifecycle. This includes the Raiffeisen International Bank which transformed its IT systems into a scalable, resilient, and fast cloud solution. Dispersed teams that seamlessly develop and deliver financial service applications has revolutionized ways of working. Previously, monolithic and dated IT banking infrastructure didn’t allow for flexibility or improve security, however Nordcloud reinvented IT architecture into an agile system, with an even stronger security solution.

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 2022, standing still is not an option. No matter how much your company grows and expands, a startup 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 company culture are your compass, consistently guiding you to innovations that delight your customers.