ATP head Regina Dugan with some of her 100-strong team

Google’s mobile-focused research group, Advanced Technology and Projects (ATP), gives projects a maximum of two years’ work before they are killed, adopted as official Google products or sold to outside companies, reports the WSJ.

The deadline was created by former DARPA head Regina Dugan in an attempt to counter the normal tendency of companies to grow less nimble and more bureaucratic as they grow in size, said Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

Product cycles slow down as a company gets larger. All of us believe we could execute faster […] 

We like this model because it puts pressure on people to perform and do relevant things or stop. I’ve spent an awful lot of time on projects that never end and products that would never ship.

The company is ruthless about killing off projects which don’t deliver notable results, said Dugan, who was hired by Google in 2012, and it doesn’t always let them run as long as two years … 

One project killed after just nine months was an attempt to increase the power efficiency of mobile devices. It was getting results, but they weren’t sufficiently impressive. The goal had been to reduce power requirements by an ambitious five to ten times, and the company didn’t believe it was going to make it.

The two-year deadline also applies to project heads, and Dugan says this ensures they are fully-focused on their goals and incentivised to overcome any hurdles they encounter along the way.

Limited tenure can mean people don’t worry about climbing the Google career ladder, Dr. Dugan said. It also can create a sense of urgency: each week is about 1% of a leader’s time in the group.

It also forces Google to up its own corporate game. It generally takes Google several weeks to sign contracts with vendors, but for an ATP project it was pushed through in 48 hours. It’s a similar story with new hires, where the normal weeks or months it takes Google to make a job offer after interview can be reduced to mere hours.

The ATP group was responsible for modular phone Ara, 3D mapping technology Tango and interactive animations for phones, Spotlight Stories. Two further ATP projects are on track to graduate into official Google products this year, but the company isn’t yet saying what they are.

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