Priceline’s top innovation hurdle: ‘the cost of coordination’’s director of product planning and strategy, Scott Lake, said that the company’s approach to innovation changed when it recognized an important rule of thumb.

“The cost of coordination is too high,” Lake said during the Digiday Brand Summit Monday. From there, Priceline overhauled the way it jumps into action when someone within the company has a new, innovative idea. The key, said Lake, is smart collaboration.

“At a large company, innovation is akin to collaboration. If you can solve collaboration, you’ve actually solved innovation at scale,” said Lake.

Change for the company’s innovation and collaboration approaches took place at Priceline about a year ago. Before that, whenever someone had a new idea, more time was spent on coordinating and communicating than was spent executing. This may sound familiar to companies that have to go through many departments — each that have their own internal sets of managerial behavior and organizational set ups — to get anything done.

So, Priceline set up a system that ensured a new project would have a dedicated team, everything they needed to get the project done within that team, and the trust to make decisions internally (rather than traversing a ladder of bureaucracy to make any progress). The “team, tools, trust” system at Priceline frees up time otherwise spent coordinating and communicating. It goes beyond Slack messages, too: Lake said that the team designated to work on a new project physically moves their seats in order to sit with the people they need to collaborate with. At Priceline, these teams are called “spotlight” teams.

“Spotlight teams are what enable us to innovate at scale,” said Lake. Since less time, effort and resources are spent coordinating, people otherwise tied up handling that coordination are available to start new projects.

“If you have an innovation that deserves time and attention, put your people on it and minimize coordination” said Lake.

Watch Lake’s entire talk below.
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