Inside Shell’s TechWorks innovation lab … where there is freedom to fail and to succeed

April 15, 2018

Julie Ferland is GM of the Shell TechWorks innovation lab. Here she offers an inside look at how the space is designed; the types of projects it works on; and the team Shell has assembled in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Our team here is comprised of people from all different industries — consumer products, Department of Defense, aerospace — the vast majority are coming from outside the oil and gas industry,” Ferland explains.

“We’re bringing people in who aren’t necessarily fresh out of school. They have years of experience in their industries. They’ve learned lessons from those other industries. They can bring those lessons learned into Shell’s industry and Shell’s tough problems. It also allows them to have a perspective on where technology has gone in those other industries.”

TechWorks includes open workspace for about 50 employees; a games area; a communal kitchen and café; phone booths; and prototyping workshops on the same level as the open workspace.

“Engineers are going back and forth all day. They can build things, they can go back and test them, they can bring them out to end users and see how they work and then come back and build something else — on a really short cycle. People are churning out five or six prototypes a week, and being able to interact with their stakeholders to see what works.”

Given that TechWorks takes on many exploratory projects, both on its own and in partnership with Shell’s business units, Ferland says, “We are allowed that freedom to fail and to succeed, and it allows some really great opportunities.”

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