Former Google CEO Explains ‘Brutal’ Project Review Process

Google's 20% Project resulted in several of the company's top products that we use today, despite the fact that it was "brutal" for employees.
SIA Team
July 3, 2022

 “Brutal” review process is what the former Google CEO Eric Schmidt describes as employees had to go through when pitching new product ideas.

“When I was running Google, I would always explain how we did it. It was completely bottoms up. You had 20% time where teams could assemble, and people could follow their passion. These were brilliant people, the highest talent. I would not tell you the rest of the story — and the rest is that Larry [Page], Sergey [Brin], and I would review these things, and these reviews were brutal,” Schmidt said.

Google popularized the 20 percent Project, which allows employees to work on side projects. Several of those projects, such as Gmail, AdSense, and Google News, have gone on to become household names.

Schmidt has always stated publicly that Google managed the 20% project from the ground up. That is, deciding what steps to take with new product ideas was a collaborative effort.

“Are these ideas good enough? Can we fund them? Are they going to work? Are they going to scale? Are they legal? To build a systemic innovation culture, which is what I think we’re talking about here, you need to have both bottoms up and tops down,” Schmidt said.

It wasn’t a group decision that allowed projects to move forward. The decision was made after a “brutal” review process by management.

Schmidt said the advantages of combining bottom-up and top-down decision-making, claiming that both are required to succeed in the next 10-20 years.