How Yellowfin created an innovation culture

How Yellowfin created an innovation culture

I often get asked why Yellowfin is always the first to market with new products - it’s because of our innovation culture. Our innovation is something that we’ve even been recognized for by BARC and Gartner. Here are three things that we do to create a culture of innovation that enables us to live and breathe new ideas.

1. Everyone has a voice

Everyone from the junior developer through to myself has input into the innovation cycle. We have a highly collaborative culture where everyone has an equal voice when it comes to sharing their ideas and giving an opinion about how the product works and what they think will make it better.

To create a culture of innovation, an organization needs people who are willing to challenge and push all the way through without ego. We hire people for their brains, not their ability to code, so we want them to challenge and improve ideas by bringing their thoughts to the table. That’s when the magic happens - when the whole organization thinks about innovation rather than just the R & D team.

We do also have hackathons to generate broad-based ideas, but we don’t want to wait until a formal hackathon day for innovation to occur. To create an innovation culture, you want innovation to happen constantly throughout the development lifecycle.  

Once a product has gone through the development cycle, we still need someone to challenge the engineering team. You can have great ideas but, if it hasn’t been designed for our customer base, it won't succeed. So we make sure that someone is always responsible for the customer experience.

2. Be prepared to fail

Innovation is expensive and risky and it fails 80% of the time. You have to be prepared to think and plan for the future irrespective of what your customers are asking for today. There’s a lot of risk in an innovation culture like that and our senior management team has to be willing to wear that cost. We know we’re going to spend time and money failing, but the journey is exciting and we know that we’ll learn a lot along the way.

Even when we bring a product to market we know that we have to be prepared to keep working on it. Take the iPhone for example. The first iteration was brought to market relatively quickly. While it was amazing at the time, there were so many issues that were dealt with over the next five years of development.

3. Make decisions fast

An innovation culture can’t be consensus-driven. You need to be able to punch through decisions quickly so you can build it, get it out there, and then plan to iterate and improve down the track.

At Yellowfin, we make decisions fast and risk is built into that model. When we built Signals, which automates data discovery, there were thousands of decisions made along the development cycle and each one was made within 24 hours. We don't have a workgroup that spends five weeks thinking about where the next button goes. We make a decision and move on, but we know we can always go back and change it downstream. It's that speed and agility, coupled with a willingness to take feedback constantly, that allows us to iterate and bring products to market quickly.

It takes more than an idea to innovate. You need an incredible depth of talent to be able to actually deliver on that idea as well. We’ve built a culture of innovation at Yellowfin that allows our people to challenge each idea and push it every step of the development cycle so that it becomes a reality.

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