Googler Steve Yegge has a long article about agile software development (developing software in short time frames). He argues that not every company does it right and Google is one of the companies where agile programming is meaningful.
"From a high level, Google's process probably does look like chaos to someone from a more traditional software development company. There are managers, sort of, but most of them code at least half-time, making them more like tech leads. Developers can switch teams and/or projects any time they want, no questions asked. Google has a philosophy of not ever telling developers what to work on, and they take it pretty seriously. (...) Engineers working on important projects are, on average, rewarded more than those on less-important projects. The rewards and incentives are too numerous to talk about here, but the financial incentives range from gift certificates and massage coupons up through giant bonuses and stock grants. (...) There are other incentives. One is that Google a peer-review oriented culture, and earning the respect of your peers means a lot there. (...) Another incentive is that every quarter, without fail, they have a long all-hands in which they show every single project that launched to everyone, and put up the names and faces of the teams (always small) who launched each one, and everyone applauds. (...) The thing that drives the right behavior at Google, more than anything else, more than all the other things combined, is gratitude. You can't help but want to do your absolute best for Google; you feel like you owe it to them for taking such incredibly good care of you. (...)
Google can be considered a fusion of the startup and grad-school mentalities: on the one hand, it's a hurry-up, let's get something out now, do the simplest thing that could work and we'll grow it later startup-style approach. On the other, it's relatively relaxed and low-key; we have hard problems to solve that nobody else has ever solved, but it's a marathon not a sprint, and focusing requires deep concentration, not frenzied meetings. And at the intersection of the two, startups and grad schools are both fertile innovation ground in which the participants carry a great deal of individual responsibility for the outcome."
Innovation, emerging from Google's chaos
Google from inside