Lean but Focus

One of the common misconceptions among many senior leaders in large companies is that technology can be built or challenges can be solved faster if we add more engineering resources. This might be true for very mature products that need incremental changes, but when it comes to innovation, building from the ground up, or finding the right solution for long-standing challenges, smaller and focus teams are far more productive.

This might be one of those concepts that many senior leaders will disagree with me on, but time and time again, it has been proven to me that lean teams are more efficient, more productive, and faster than an army of engineers. Of course, the lean team needs to be filled with superstars—agile and passionate individuals—but after a certain team size, progress slows down regardless of the team members. Tony Fadell also touches on this in his book “Build.” He tells the story of how they started working on the iPhone with a very small team, under an aggressive timeline, and with immense pressure for delivery.

When I started my recent AI initiative in LinkedIn Foundation AI, we received a large number of headcounts. However, we quickly discovered it was more efficient to have almost one-third of the resources, but consisting of highly productive individuals with 100% focus—in other words, individuals fully dedicated to the project. Suddenly, artifacts started to land quicker, and the quality of the work noticeably improved.

As a side note, managing the transition from a large team to a much smaller team was also a new experience, especially since the initiative was a top priority for the organization. It hurt the feelings of many individuals who wanted to contribute to the project, caused a knowledge gap at the beginning since some component owners were no longer part of the project, increased pressure on the core team, and introduced many other challenges that I will write about later.