I was recently asked by a former colleague of mine to have a look at what appeared to be a process for Product Design. Pretty quickly it became apparent that the process was indeed interesting and its overview was written by someone who knew what he was talking about. However, it wasn’t long before I realised that the process in question was implemented by Google Ventures…. which made me question myself:
Do great processes make great products?
Is there any value in trying to follow the processes implemented by traditionally strong and product-oriented brands such as Google, Spotify, Amazon and the rest?
To answer this question, let’s take step back and “generalise” my experiences with Product Development Teams – which unfortunately, can be summarised as follows… (yellow components accompanied by commentary below).
Got a Good Team?
The starting point of everything. Google ensures that its employees are the best of the best, due to a notoriously hard selection process and generous compensation and benefits. Everything else follows from that, with minimal intervention from Process Managers and the rest. Get a not-so-talented team and, best case scenario, you’ll end up spending ridiculous amounts of time herding cats and trying to put some order in the chaos just so that you can implement a passable product.
You “star team” does not follow a process? Worry not.
To the untrained eye, it might appear that a highly productive team does not have a process. That’s because the process itself is part of their working life and ethos, without the need to constantly remind everyone of its principles and guidelines.
If indeed a good team with strong individuals does not follow a process (especially if the team has just been put together), this will most likely be a temporary condition. The team will organically improve the process, each individual bringing their own experience at the table!
“Meh” Team + Fancy Process = Chaos
Let’s consider the situation where we have to deal with a weak team – one with low morale, limited sense of responsibility & lack of leaders. Let me introduce you to 75% of the Tech Teams in the Average Tech Company PLC. Unfortunately, cramping fancy “up there on the clouds” processes down the throats of such team , will only result in chaos. Most advanced/funky processes rely on individuals being intimate with their domain and being able to attack the problem from multiple angles.
Time should not be wasted on reinforcing common sense, as it’s often the case when one finds himself in a room with less-than-competent people. High productivity environments are not artificial – they evolve organically around strong individuals and strong teams. Try to fake it and best case scenario, people will laugh at you!
Put a Basic Process in Place!
In my experience, the main reason certain methodologies such as Pragmatic Marketing or Scrum are successful is pretty straight forward:
- They are relatively basic (low complexity)
- They have been around long enough for people to write detailed guidelines to help new adopters through the first-time journey (Scrum Guide for Dummies anyone?).
Let’s take Pragmatic Marketing as an example – each step of the process is carefully mapped out, accompanied by examples and templates. They attempt to teach you common sense through the problem-oriented domain – and in my opinion, it works.
So, the conclusion?
What is the answer the initial question? Well, in my opinion, great processes don’t make great products by themselves. Great people do – and they do so with coming up with, or utilising great processes. I’m sure that the smart folk at all the leading tech companies will keep coming up with cooler processes accompanied by increasingly snappy names. However, the rest of us should exercise a bit of common sense before jumping on the bandwagon of embracing those methodologies as the next “slice of bread”.
So, my advice to all tech companies out there? Stop wasting your money on countless copies of “The Lean Startup” and invest in people: cherish your good staff and attract the best of the best. The processes will follow… and so will the great products!