In my current company, we are undergoing an engineering team restructuration because we are growing from 50ish to 100ish engineers only this year.

The current structure does not work anymore so we came up with an action plan, which includes building a new team.

The main goal of this team is to fill the gap between business and tech. As the company relies completely on the Platform which is composed of an API, Mobile apps, website, etc. There is no new business line that they can start or try without us implementing it.

However, the engineering team does not have time to implement features that are not 100% proven to be needed, so it leaves the business team quite hand-tied with their demands, which at the end are client's demands. It makes sense that they try new things beyond the tech capabilities at the moment, just to see if it's a worthy business model or not but tech never has time to support them. This team's responsibilities would be to find the best "hack" possible until the tests are over and if proven needed, we would then implement it properly in the Platform.

This team would be some sort of innovation team. And here comes my question: Have you ever seen any team like this before in other companies? How is this usually called? I really want to read others' stories. However, without the proper keywords, I'm not lucky enough in my Google searches.

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    Usually in big companies, they have their own R&D departments just for this reason. In mid-size organizations, they have innovation / Center of Excellence (CoE) teams performing the same. In smaller ogrs, this is probably a 1 or 2 person (technical architects) handling this - there's usually no silver bullet. Every organization adopts whichever suits them. – Sourav Ghosh Dec 9 '19 at 11:38
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    From the start, you probably need to emphasize that these are prototypes and repeatedly reinforce the idea that it needs to be redone and is completely unsafe for production. For practically every company I worked for, these "hacks" end up on production systems for YEARS to DECADES. – Nelson Dec 11 '19 at 2:31

Yes, every company I've worked for has had something like this. However they've all been called something different, whether it was 'special projects', 'marketing support', 'research' or whatever.

As you've noticed, once a company gets out of the 'start up' phase, development needs to be planned, often months or years ahead. The business sets their priorities for the next big project, and then discovers that it doesn't have any spare resource for short-term projects.

Sometimes this department is a sandbox for a genius who struggles to fit into a larger team. Sometimes it's the private army of a powerful marketing/sales person.

Small software teams that work closely with their stakeholder can be far more productive than big teams, so it makes sense to use them where you can.

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Cutting most of the filler away, I think the question ends up being

How can we transform from a startup to a big company?

There's not a defined answer. Some companies grow on their own, adapting their own policies and strategies. Some use a big outsider investor, which also closely monitors & aids on whatever is needed for the startup to grow optimally.

The most 'used' way, generally, is some variation on the 'R&D' department. It may consist of a mix of small teams of geniuses, which devote their time in whatever is necessary for the next production phase of the product.

Allow me to give a brief example of my own workplace:

Some big company wanted to introduce AI to control some camera motions, on a very specific use case. They contacted us. We (as a small-ish) company, don't have experience doing AI stuff, but we do have a small, 5 person team, which are engineers with published papers on AI and AI research. They already work on the R&D department, so their assigned task was to:

  1. Look for AI implementations which tackle our problem

  2. Out of those implementations, discuss which one fits better / is a better alternative / costs less resources.

  3. Present the plan, and a path to follow.

Did they come up with a finished product? They didn't. Will their research help the production, help us come with a finished product, and added huge added value to our company? It did.

That's why that department exists.

I hope it helps.

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