4.23.2008

Lean Thinking at Google

I don’t know whether Google operates as a lean company, but I was pleased recently to read evidence that the people at Google try to think in a lean way.

Popular Mechanics recently
posted an interview on its website with Udi Manber, who is Google’s vice president in charge of search quality.

While the interview focused on trends and directions in search, the comment I found most interesting was when Manber talked about how Google reacts when a search doesn’t produce the results it should.

At Google we do not manually change results. For example, if we find for a particular query that result No. 4 should be result No. 1, we do not have the capability to manually change it. We made that decision not to put that capability in the algorithm—we have to go and actually change the algorithm. That is, we have to find what weakness in the algorithm caused that result and find a general solution to that, evaluate whether a general solution really works and if it’s better, and then launch a general solution. That makes the process slower, but it puts a lot more discipline on us and makes it more unbiased.

In other words, when there is a problem, don’t create a workaround; identify the root cause and solve the problem.

A good lesson for all of us.

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