10 Learnings from 5 years of Intrapreneurial Success in IBM Garage

Rachel Reinitz
May 15 · 8 min read

1. Friends are invaluable.

I’ve always valued strong relationships with my colleagues, but never more than when I started the Garage. Friends from around the company pitched in and helped from volunteering to run the workshops, interviewing people, planning our first events, and even opening up new Garages (such as London in Nov 2014).

2. Take risks and don’t take “no” for an answer. Be bold.

Steve and I are strong believers that you can do anything at IBM. The Garage didn’t fit a pattern or process that had been done before. Don’t take “no” for an answer. When you are doing something new, you will hear it quite a bit. You have to sell your idea, then sell it again, and when you are ready to give up, keep selling. Turn your message into a compelling story people can relate to. You win by making people believers. Answering the negativity with a simple “come experience it”.

3. Create a unique, compelling client experience.

A key in the Garage’s success has been delivering rapid value to clients and having them truly experience a new way of working. The experiences we deliver to our clients are built upon a prescriptive formula for using best practices from agile, devOps, Site Reliability Engineering, lean, Enterprise Design Thinking, Spotify squads, combined with a deep understanding of enterprise clients. The Garage experience is a combination of our collaborative places, our practices/method, accelerated delivery thru use of IBM Cloud services, and most of all our talent. Hear from Bendigo and Adelaide Bank about their Garage experience.

4. Be strategic in what you share publicly.

To significantly amplify the impact of the Garage, we decided to create a public site for the Garage method in 2015 and invested heavily in capturing and publishing proven cloud architectures with technical implementations and detailed guidance in our Cloud Architecture Center. The reach and impact of the Garage expanded exponentially through the method site reaching over 55,000 unique visitors a month.

5. Hire for talent and culture fit. Embrace diversity.

Our top criteria for hiring potential candidates was and is (1) their desire to learn and (2) being a cultural fit with the Garage. We seek diversity in all dimensions different backgrounds, ethnicities, gender, and experience levels — one of our designers has been a standup comedian, and one of our most impactful senior manager has a military background. And then we work to ensure that we are inclusive in providing opportunities equally across our world wide team. And we are always looking for diverse, talented designers, developers, architects who are excited by the Garage culture and mission — apply here if you are one of them!

6. Focus on client value and relationships.

Our focus on every project is to drive value for our clients. Our recommended starting point is our 2-day Garage MVP Design Thinking Workshop where we drive alignment amongst our clients, develop hypotheses to test, and define an MVP. We focus on building an MVP, on the IBM Cloud, that will deliver business value in 6 to 8 weeks. If the better thing to do is to first do a non-technical MVP or user research that is what we will recommend. When our clients see us embracing their perspective and working to make them successful, they view us as a partner. We are able to form enduring, trusting relationships with our clients that enable us both to be successful. A relationship built on trust is key to success when we go beyond one MVP to scaled adoption of and transformation using the Garage Method.

7. Balance consistency with exploration, individuality, and experimentation.

I recently tested our consistency with an impromptu quizzing of Garage consultants from 5 different Garage locations in front of our new VP, asking “what is our mission” — and the answers were similar. At the core we achieved consistency through our culture and a set of actions:

8. Keep evolving your business model.

With IBM transforming to be a cloud and cognitive company and as the Garage has grown, we have experienced a lot of change within the past 5 years. Aspects of our business model have changed every year. For example, we recently innovated having Garage services be purchasable in the IBM Cloud catalog. Also be sure to hold on to what is working well. For example, operating as one worldwide team is critical to our business model and success.

9. Embrace change and avoid founder’s syndrome.

The early Garage team and I miss aspects of the early days. Through 2015, many of us

10. Embrace growth, even when it is uncomfortable.

Of all the kinds of change, major growth is the hardest — ask any 2-year old, teenager, or new retiree. Most, maybe all, of our Garage leaders and longer time consultants have experienced discomfort with aspects of our growth including: changing our organizational structure, more overhead of communication, deepening partnership with various teams across IBM, and changes to our branding. Critical for our growth in 2018 and going forward is scaling the Garage with our clients utilizing partnerships across IBM and with business partners. Leaders must set forth the vision and benefits of growth and lead the team in embracing the great possibilities that exist. To quote our IBM CEO, Ginni Rometty “I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist”.

What Comes Next

Number 10 naturally leads me to talk about where are we now and where are we going next — I’m proud to say the IBM Garage (formerly Bluemix Garage) and the Garage Method that we created 5 years ago have proven so successful that they are now being elevated, expanded, and adopted across IBM. All of my colleagues, friends, and clients who have been part of this journey should be proud as well — we truly have made an impact on how clients’ experience the new IBM and fulfilled our mission of making clients of all sizes successful on IBM Cloud.

IBM Garage

Startup speed at enterprise scale.

Rachel Reinitz

Written by

IBM Fellow, CTO and Founder of the IBM Cloud Garage. Into building great apps with clients. My opinions are my own.

IBM Garage

Startup speed at enterprise scale.