On reading Lean Enterprise, this week’s guest, Chris Goddard, reached out to Barry O’Reilly several years ago to help implement its principles and practices at his company, G-Research. Chris has been with G-Research, a leading quantitative research and technology company in the algorithmic investment space, for almost 20 years. He is currently the Chief Technology Officer there. Barry says of G-Research, “Working with the team has really helped me evolve my thesis on the power of gathering and synthesizing data to inform your products and business model investments, much of which is actually captured in my latest article, Precision Product Creation…”. Listen to Leading an Engineering Culture Transformation with Chris Goddard.

Leading an Engineering Culture Transformation

Being thrown into a job that he didn’t sign up for turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Chris. “What it really taught me was how the ecosystem of everything hung together;” he says, “how you needed to think about the building blocks as being bigger than just lines of code…” That experience set him up to progress to more strategic roles over his 20-year career at G-Research. He says that it’s important for leaders to ask good questions and to look for inspiration outside their field. Also, you have to accept that you will be wrong sometimes and face up to your mistakes. [Listen from 4:15]


Signals of Change and a Culture Transformation

At a certain point, the strategies that brought you success in the past no longer suffice. At that point, a leader needs to move in another – often counterintuitive – direction. G-Research’s founder asked Chris, “Why does it feel like it’s not working? Like we were adding more resources and that the business was doing well, but it felt like it was getting harder.” Chris tells Barry about the changes happening in the company and the world at the time, as well as how he realized that the company needed to shift their focus from functionality to developing their craft. With Barry’s help, Chris says, the company underwent a culture change. He jokes about the ‘Barry Post-Its’ that now decorated the previously bare walls. “It felt like it just cracked open the creativity that was in the business,” he comments. [Listen from 10:50]

Becoming More Open

The transition from developing all their own software to embracing open source is just one of the culture changes G-Research adopted. Barry comments that he admires the spirit of the team – he loves how they see ideas as hypotheses that they openly challenge. Chris remarks that they also started measuring more: they wanted to see how the new methods were impacting the company. He and Barry talk about the risk metric that G-Research used to measure speed to market. Interestingly, the team itself also grew more close-knit. They each wanted to learn about what their colleagues were doing, and took pride in being part of the team. [Listen from 15:30]

The Power of 10,000

Using open source software is like getting “the power of 10,000 engineers when you only have a few hundred,” Chris argues. He tells Barry that it comes down to what you’re contributing to open source. You don’t have to expose your IP, but if you can solve general problems that many people have and put the code out there for them to use and modify, it will benefit everyone. You’re also showing the quality work you do, he says. He recommends open source when you have a strong engineering culture as G-Research does. He says that they handle software variety by keeping to standards for how they interchange data, and by open and frequent communication among teams. [Listen from 28:00]

Looking Ahead and Top Tips

Chris is thinking more about what could be around the corner technology-wise. He is particularly interested in exploring how best to use the public cloud even while investing in private data centers. He shares some other changes he thinks the industry will face in the near future. Barry asks him to give advice to a leader who senses that their future success is being limited by their present actions. Chris advises such leaders to keep in touch with the people doing the job, keep abreast of technology trends and read a lot. He stresses that sometimes you just need to “stew on it.” He remarks, “Actually if you sometimes just let your mind tell you the answer you’ll find it’s there. You just have to kind of quiet down a bit.” [Listen from 35:15]

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