By Jessica E. Vascellaro, The Wall Street Journal
Search giant concerned on lack of formal process for reviewing '20 percent time'.
Google Inc. is revamping how it develops and prioritizes new products, giving employees a pipeline to the company's top brass amid worries about losing its best people and promising ideas to start-ups.
The Mountain View, Calif., company famously lets its engineers spend one day a week on projects that aren't part of their jobs. But Google has lacked a formal process for senior executives to review those efforts, and some ideas have languished. Others have slipped away when employees left the company.
"We were concerned that some of the biggest ideas were getting squashed," said Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt in an interview.
Google can no longer afford to let promising ideas fall by the wayside. The Internet search giant's once-torrid growth has slowed. At the same time, it faces fresh competition from Microsoft Corp.'s new search engine, Bing, and start-ups such as Twitter Inc., which was founded by former Google employees.
In response, Google has recently started internal "innovation reviews," formal meetings where executives present product ideas bubbling up through their divisions to Mr. Schmidt, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and other top executives.
The meetings are designed to "force management to focus" on promising ideas at an early stage, Mr. Schmidt said.
The efforts have been behind several services that Google has recently unveiled, including software that allows companies to use Microsoft's Outlook email and calendar software while storing their data with Google. Microsoft said Wednesday the Google software interferes with an Outlook search function; Google disputed the severity of the problem, but said it is working to improve its software.
Another project, an imaging product that is based on facial-recognition software developed inside Google, is expected to be released this summer.
Google has also begun to give a few engineers broad leeway to start big projects of their choosing, Mr. Schmidt said. One result of this effort: Google Wave, a collaboration tool that the company previewed last month.
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