Innovating a more fully realized future of work

Dell's President of Client Product Group and "Innovator at Work" Ed Ward on what makes teams successful.

By Camille Kail, contributor, thought leadership, Dell Technologies

Ed Ward believes in intentionality. In his 35-plus years in tech and product organizations—24 of those years spent running product engineering teams at Dell Technologies—deliberate and purposeful leadership decisions have been key to nurturing the innovative teams that produce forward-thinking products.

From his work developing some of the first Latitude notebooks to gaining autonomy as an engineering executive and now business leader, Ward knows firsthand the amount of grit needed to make teams cohesive and successful. “I look for people who are intellectually curious and are able to think about the why of a problem rather than the how. I try to lead by example, staying energized and curious because I know from experience how the environment can influence and affect the output of the team at large.”

Ward works to implement an “all for one, one for all” ethos in his product teams. “A former leader of mine once told me that the more holes you poke in something, the more solid it gets. It sounds counterintuitive, but what that kind of thinking is really about is getting as many heads as possible together to examine a problem and coming to a solution using the variety of knowledge and experience that’s running through your team.”

According to Dell’s 2023 Innovation Index , which polled 6,600 global IT and business decision makers, 64% said that aspects of their company’s culture were holding them back from being as innovative as they wanted or were capable of being. “I’ve been on projects where everyone was working really hard, but no progress was being made,” Ward says. “And it took a new team member to say, ‘There aren’t enough perspectives being considered’ for it to really click in my mind. We’d been trying to complete our task in a vacuum, but as soon as we started bringing in outside teams and stakeholders, the work started improving.” That was Ward’s first experience with the “us versus them” mentality that can plague and stymy workplaces; “I made the decision to start leading from a place of we.”

“I look for people who are intellectually curious and are able to think about the why of a problem rather than the how.

— Ed Ward, president, client product group at Dell Technologies

Expanding opportunities in engineering

Ward initially became interested in technology as a freshman in high school in the ’70s when he saw a computer running video games. The first person in his family to attend college, he studied electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was one of very few Black students in his graduating class.

Although representation was thin, Ward found mentors at early jobs that were able to connect him to other people of color in the field. “When I came to Dell, I had the pleasure of working with one of the original engineers at Compaq Computers who was also a graduate of an HBCU, Howard University. He really took me under his wing and exposed me to this larger network of Black engineers and technology professionals.”

Today, Ward is a lifetime member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and is the executive sponsor of the organization within Dell. Although he didn’t join the organization until later in his career, he recognizes that students today still grapple with the same feelings of isolation that he remembers from his time as an undergrad. While there’s more visibility for Black engineers now, only about 7% of undergraduate STEM degrees go to Black and African American students. 

“There’s a gap when it comes to internships and job placements—unfortunately, we still need to work on building the connections to get diverse candidates in the room. The talent I’m seeing is on-the-level: Whether they’re innovating within the gig economy that’s sprung up in recent years or creating their own websites, students have bright futures and a community behind them that will support and further their ambitions.”

Zooming out: Innovation at work

By placing value on intentionality, collaboration and access to a mixed brain trust, Ward’s teams are leading the charge with tech that emphasizes learning above all. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been in the news as of late, but Ward is ahead of the curve. “AI is infused everywhere within our products and processes; the tech is anticipating what we need, whether it’s machine settings or making connections that are 10 steps ahead of where a human’s mind can foresee.

“The question now is, how can we add value so that we’re working with the AI and not for it? And how can that human element—the nuances that come from living—work with the tech to create something that gets us further than we could dream of getting to on our own?” Ward thinks that the next big technological and engineering developments will be focused on making our world more resilient. Ward’s Client Product Group team is ideating on how AI and client computing can change how industries get work done on a global scale by connecting devices and tech stacks to deliver real-time data insights and solutions.

Beyond smart manufacturing, Dell has shown projects like Concept Nyx, which started as an exploration of AI-powered immersive gaming experiences, but is expanding into virtual and mixed reality tools that will allow users to access and make full use of content, shared project spaces, desktop environments and more. These kinds of applications, in addition to empowered teams and continued cooperation with machinery, will usher in a more fully-realized future of work.

For all this talk of the future, innovation still takes work in the present. According to the Innovation Index, 68% of respondents felt that leaders were more focused on day-to-day business responsibilities than pushing their teams to be more forward-thinking. With this in mind, Ward is setting an example on his team by pairing intelligent tech with tested tactics for management and collaboration. “It starts at the top,” he says. “You can emphasize that work is important, but you have to contextualize the why within your team and environment. And if your team is coming with a range of perspectives, the solution you’ll eventually hit on— that’s what drives innovation.”

Innovators at Work is a series on Perspectives profiling Dell team members who drive innovation by combining ideas and technology to create life-shaping impact. The series is inspired by Dell’s Innovation Index, which provides insight on what global decision makers are doing to create innovation resilience in turbulent times.