Google Interview 2.0 – Larry Page

In thies exclusive, unpublished except from Playboy magazine’s September 2004 Interview with the Google Guys, co-founder Larry Page gives some insight into how his innovative company is managerd. …
Playboy: As companies grow, many lose what made them great in the first place. How will you manage Google when it grows even larger?

Page: Let’s look at the engineering side, where a lot of our creative work gets done. In most companies’ engineering departments, a manager will manage seven to 10 people. When the company grows, seven managers each will manage seven to 10 people. The managers report to one vice president. That works if you have 49 people. But then you grow to 350 people, and the seven people who work for one manager each have seven people. When you have — let’s see — 2,000 people, there’s another layer. You end up with layer upon layer. People at the bottom are alienated from those at the top. We’ve resisted that. We have far fewer managers, even though it means ours have to manage far more people. To make sure it works, we’re careful about the management we hire. We don’t have as many managers as we should, but we would rather have too few than too many. We want a thin structure. It could be too thin. The downside is that people don’t get the attention they need, especially the more junior people. But there’s a trade-off. We’re all more connected to one another, and more work gets done.

Playboy: Why exactly does the system generate more work?

Page: Partly because more people are actually doing work, not just managing those who do the work. Our structure allows us to have an unusually large number of small projects going on all the time. We have hundreds. There may be only three people on a project. On that scale, there’s a lot of creativity and a lot of self-managing. If you have just a few huge projects and you realize you’re going in the wrong direction, many people are on the wrong track. It’s difficult to stop. Here, if a small group realizes it’s going in the wrong direction, the group can fix it quickly and move on. We need to be even better in dealing with all the projects, but we do pretty well. The more projects, the more difficult it is to keep track of them. It’s worth struggling with that problem, though, because you keep this fun culture and people feel empowered. They have more control over what they’re doing.

Playboy: How do you manage hundreds of projects without many levels of management?

Page: We have pushed hard to automate many of the normal management tasks. For example, we have good systems for employee reviews. All of them are collected together so when our managers need them they have all the data written up. We also have systems that automate and track the management of all our projects. This allows an enormous amount of freedom. One time an engineer told me, “I’m not working on what you think I’m working on.” He explained that his work had evolved into something extremely relevant and important, but there was no place to track it in our system. I said, “Why don’t you enter it into the system?” “I can do that?” he said. I’m like, “Yeah, who else is going to do it?” We have a system that engineers can update to put themselves on another project. Someone else might say, “Whoa, wait a second. I don’t want people to be able to do that.” Well, it turns out you have two choices: You can try to control people, or you can try to have a system that represents reality. I find that knowing what’s really happening is more important than trying to control people.

Another system sends everyone in the company a weekly e-mail asking what they did the previous week. Everyone responds, and a program compiles all the responses. Right now I can get a list of what everybody throughout Google did last week. It’s a powerful thing. We may be sitting around arguing about why something isn’t being done or who is doing what, and we can instantly see exactly what’s going on — not in theory and not according to some chart but according to reports written by the people doing the work. These systems become more important the bigger we are.

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