Technology
AI
07 Nov. 2023fiber_manual_record7 min read

Balance tech knowledge and engineering culture to drive innovation

Technical expertise can drive massively influential innovation. But generating that kind of outcome is only possible when you have the right engineering culture in place.
Technology
AI
Three businesspeople smiling and having a meeting
Share this article
FacebookLinkedInXIcon

In brief

  • Connecting collaboration and diversity at the core of that culture generates the trust needed to innovate freely.
  • Whether you’re investing in culture for the first time or tweaking to unleash even more tech knowledge, small changes can add up to a big difference on the innovation front. What does that look like in practice?

Technology + culture = the kind of innovation we need next

Technical expertise can drive massively influential innovation. But generating that kind of outcome is only possible when you have the right engineering culture in place. Even the best tech tools and ideas fall short if a team’s environment isn’t primed to support fresh thinking and bold solutions. The good news? Connecting collaboration, trust and diversity can create a playing field where tech expertise and culture combine to ignite compelling new results.

Balance tech knowledge and engineering culture to drive innovation.

New technologies abound. In less than a year, easily accessible generative artificial intelligence (gen AI) has created entirely new ways for people, teams, businesses and organizations to spark progress. That said, you must be operating in a broader culture that’s open to those possibilities to make the most of these kinds of technology.

That kind of culture comes down to three equally important defining characteristics:

  • Collaboration: A collaborative spirit is a powerful force in an organization. When people are encouraged to bring their expertise and ideas to a project or challenge, teams gel. Engineering cultures done right encourage everyone, at any stage of the development process, to contribute. This dismantles roadblocks and builds up connectivity, supporting agile workflows and continuous learning.

  • Diversity: There’s no denying more diverse teams fuel more impactful results. In fact, Canadian studies show organizations that hire more inclusively are six times more innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes . Making the most of your tech bench strength depends on your ability to foster inclusion and celebrate the unique experiences, backgrounds and perspectives of individual team members. When people feel they belong, they can more readily contribute and fuel innovation.

  • Trust: Permission to try — and try, try again — is crucial for any team looking to channel tech expertise into meaningful and innovative outcomes. Without trust as a building block, fear takes hold, and team members become unwilling to take risks. On the flipside, when people are empowered with psychological safety and the permission to test ideas or approaches, agility and innovation can flourish.

Case in point? Imagine a hackathon. These moment-in-time, tech-based events are fundamentally about pursuing the unknown. A hackathon is a unique opportunity for people to move beyond comfort zones and explore novel ways of doing something to see how that solution might benefit a given project or address a particular challenge.

Maybe you’re starting from an open-ended question and looking to flesh out blue sky ideas with zero constraint. Perhaps you’re tackling a nuanced issue within a given function — let’s say, how machine learning might address a given operational challenge. However your hackathon is focused, it’s a wonderful way to bring people together around a common goal and experiment, develop, prove a concept or otherwise generate business value. In our team, we use hackathons to bust through decision paralysis, take down barriers to innovation and rally people around a common purpose in cost-effective ways.

That said, whether you’re creating a quick proof of concept for the latest augmented reality tool or seeking answers for how a chatbot will tackle a specific question: hackathons don’t drive high-tech innovation if the right engineering culture doesn’t exist to support them. Pairing that tech expertise with the right cultural environment can change everything. Connecting collaboration and diversity at the core of that culture generates the trust needed to innovate freely.

Embrace five core principles to create innovation-friendly culture.

Whether you’re investing in culture for the first time or tweaking to unleash even more tech knowledge, small changes can add up to a big difference on the innovation front. What does that look like in practice?

  1. Be open. Challenging ourselves to focus more on outcomes improves culture. Supporting people with a blank canvas — and stopping short of telling them what you expect the solution to be — encourages them to bring their tech expertise to the table and create something new. The best engineering cultures are never really about the destination, but rather what’s learned along the way. It’s critical to articulate clear outcomes — think “increase user registration,” not “build a new website” — at the front end and then provide a runway for teams to ideate together.
  2. Celebrate failure. Innovative cultures accept failure as an important learning opportunity. When trust is a cornerstone of your innovation process and engineering culture, people have the time and space they need to ideate, test and incorporate learning into the next iteration.
  3. Eliminate silos. We’ve all experienced the friction that emerges when design and development are carried out separately. Dismantling internal silos nurtures the kind of culture in which innovation thrives. Bring designers and developers together. Encourage folks to share their tech expertise and input at every stage of the innovation process. Encourage ownership and accountability so people work together to build a collective result that works best.
  4. Share resources. Technologies offer a common language people across teams can use to express ideas and contribute. Making sure everyone has fair and equitable access to the best tools can go a long way to building up your culture. Here at EY, we’ve invested to develop and launch our own in-house gen AI app. Within hours, our multidisciplinary team was all in, figuring out how we might use it together to analyze challenges and work on solutions for EY clients.
  5. Welcome ideas. When a developer jumps in to suggest a process improvement, or a quality assurance manager offers up a contrarian view, the innovation process is better for it. Your culture must be inherently inclusive for people to feel confident bringing their true selves, and their unique tech knowledge, forward. Set out with intention to address that your people reflect a broad range of backgrounds, experiences and capabilities. Celebrate all that makes your people unique to generate a more inclusive culture — and more innovative results.

Summary

Even the leading-edge tech can’t drive innovation on its own. You need a supportive and diverse culture, grounded in openness, collaboration and trusted permission to try if technologies are going to reach their full potential. Invest equally in tech and culture to unleash the kind of innovation the world needs to solve complex problems and create remarkable futures.

JP DuBouchard is a Program Area Manager in the Consulting practice of Ernst & Young LLP. As an Advanced Certified Scrum Master with five years of experience in the Software Development realm, JP has experience collaborating with a variety of team sizes, from smaller start-up groups in the private sector, to large government teams with many interested parties. JP’s wealth of knowledge has been integral to the team’s success when turning concepts into reality. Having a wide breadth of experience allows JP to capitalize on the team’s unique skillset and build effective, real-world solutions.
View profile
Cameron Bowler serves as a manager and tech-lead at EY Design Studio. His expertise lies in front-end architecture and advisement, supported by a robust knowledge of modern web development tools like VueJs. Cameron has significantly contributed to the BC Registries and Online Services modernization project, focusing on the construction and advisement of front-end architecture and development.
View profile
Kendall Olsen-Maier is a Senior Manager at EY Canada, where she leads the Design Studio (EYDS) technology discipline. She has over 15 years of professional experience in agile software development and delivery, with recent focus on digital modernization within the public sector.
View profile
Technology
AI

You be the hero.
We'll be your guide.

We'd love to learn more about your design and development goals.
Sphere