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Innovation at speed:
The Signal Experience
18/9/2017 - Sainsbury's Digital Team Away Day
Luca Grulla - VP Engineering @ Signal
Dr Miguel Martinez- Co-Founder / Chief Data Scientist @ Signal
Signal: Who are we?
Signal is an artificial intelligence firm, turning the world’s information into accessible, actionable, business
knowledge, through intuitive services.
Main clients in PR / Comms in professional and financial services.
Justin King’s (ex-CEO Sainsbury’s) calendar only changes for family events or PR Crisis.
From 3 to 65 people in 4 years.
Innovation@Signal - Four pillars
A team of 20 (developers, data scientists and product) can consistently innovate if it follows these pillars:
● Be focussed and have a purpose
● Use metrics to direct our focus
● Embrace autonomy
● Bridge the gap between research and product development
Allowing us to push the market and disrupt incumbents with larger resources.
● Alignment between different levels of the organisation
○ OKRs (Objectives and Key Results)
○ Use few, but critical, KPIs in order to stay focussed
● Build → Measure → Learn cycle
● Focus on outcomes rather than outputs
○ E.g. recommended products: size of the shopping cart vs increase on average purchase
Metrics Driven Development
Decisions are not based on someone's opinion or fixed timeframes. It’s on achieving a KPI that is the
representation of a meaningful improvement and a clear focus.
Find the right metrics is hard.
Stay away from vanity metrics dressed up as KPIs!
We use labels to train the machine learning components. The number of labels is a vanity metric, the
number of topics live in the product being used is a meaningful one
Autonomy - Product teams
It’s cross functional teams on steroids.
The team works as a single entity to define a roadmap and figure out how to deliver it.
Autonomy doesn’t mean isolation: the team has to talk to all the relevant parties (sales, marketing, etc)
All skillsets needed to succeed and own your destiny.
Mastery - Guilds
Centre of excellence and opportunity for knowledge sharing.
It’s not a forum for decision making.
Opportunity for people with similar backgrounds to improve and learn.
Bridge the gap - Product teams and R&D
How to find the balance between product and research cycles?
Product innovation has faster feedback loop
Research has longer feedback loop, but potentially outcome could be much larger
Research is irrelevant in most cases if you fail to integrate it into a product
Product teams and R&D: Hybrid model
Data scientists embedded in the product teams for a faster roll out of DS features
A separate DS team for medium/long term R&D with :
● Data Scientists
● Data Engineers
Baked in bidirectional communication(both formal and informal)
Cutting edge R&D
● Be active part of the community
○ Attending and hosting meet-ups
○ Talks and presentations
○ Organising academic conferences and workshops
○ Publishing papers
● Collaboration with universities and research centres
○ Visiting Researchers (PhD, post doc, …)
○ MSc thesis projects and interns
Innovation at speed - Take away
Embrace the Build → Measure → Learn cycle.
Use meaningful KPIs to drive your decisions.
Focus on outcomes, not outputs.
Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose are the innovation boosters.
Dr Miguel Martinez