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27 January 2010

BAs learning from other companies: Google, part 1

This is the first part of a two part article, focusing on how BAs (and really any person who is involved in a project), could learn from some of the practices of different companies. This is the first in a series of posts I intend to do on this topic, each focusing on a different company. Be sure to check back tomorrow for part 2.

Google is a very admired company, both for their excellent products and their financial performance. Besides those impressive feats, there are several lessons that business analysts can learn from a quick review of what got Google to where they are today.

Don’t be evil.

This is Google’s motto and driving aspiration. Many of their software predecessors (Microsoft, IBM and Oracle if you want to point a few fingers) had contentions and even antagonistic relationships with many of their customers. These companies often stated how ‘customer focused’ they were, but their actions often did not match up with their rhetoric. Google wanted to be different from these more traditional companies, and for the most part have succeeded.

Not being evil means a few different things. First, never abuse your power. If you get into a fight and throw your weight around, do so in favor of your customer and their needs, not strictly what makes financial sense for you. Google realizes that customers notice when a company is being overly selfish at the expense of their customers and they try not to exhibit such behavior.

As BAs, we do not necessarily have lots of ‘power’, but we do have a great deal of influence and responsibility. Never should we seek to use these things only to our sole gain. Our skills should only be used to the betterment of our customers (although sometimes that betterment is not what the customer believes will be the best) and by bettering our customers, we will in turn better ourselves.

Openness is good.

This one is actually a mixed bag for Google, one of the ways in which they fail at the previous point. Google is all about open. They use open source technologies and they regularly contribute their advances back into the open source community. Where they fail is that they only return technology that either advances their agenda or that doesn’t reveal a competitive advantage over their competition.

A good example of this is Google’s data center technology. Special built servers with custom cooling apparatuses power the Google platform, which presumably gives them a competitive advantage in cost structure over their competitors. The equipment they use is mostly off the shelf hardware, but assembled in a way that is different enough to provide real energy savings. Imagine if this same technology could be used by all data centers in all industries, how much energy savings could be increased. Google hasn’t released this technology because it gives them that advantage over other data center hosts.

Never be a hoarder of information and knowledge. Share the wealth. A great BA is one who enables and equips our customers and colleagues with everything they need to do their work in the most effective manner possible. It is up to us to facilitate the smooth flow of information to all corners of the organization, even beyond those we think are within our reach. We should always be striving to push back the curtains and throw light on problems and concerns.


No, not in the buzzword sense of the word, but I mean true innovation. Putting a different color of paint on the same car design isn’t innovation. One of the things that Google is great at is understanding where they started at, where they are now and how big the problem is they still have to tackle.

Back before the advent of Google, I remember how painful it was to find needed information quickly. Now with Google, it is a rare time when the information I need is not just a few keystrokes away. Despite how good their search engine is, it could be better. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, stated in 2005 that the company estimates it would take 300 years for them to index all of the world’s information. That is a huge task and ensures their primary goal won’t be met for a very long time, unless they innovate to find ways to do the work faster.

For BAs, we should always be looking for ways to not only improve how our customers work, but ways we work. There are many more tools and techniques for managing requirements than there were even 10 years ago, but most of us continue to use word processing and spreadsheet software for that task. Its not that those tools are bad or even inappropriate, but when was the last time we even considered using a different tool? New web tools are released daily and some, like Google’s Wave, could completely change the way we interact with our customers and how we manage requirements. If we never step back from our daily tasks to look for new and better methods, we will be left behind.