Design by committee kills product innovation

Design by committee leads to a diluted product vision and compromise on the key features. There are no two ways about it, there needs to be a decision maker. Someone must own the product, own the vision, own what you are trying to achieve.

It is always a fine balance, it is important to get input from all the key stakeholders – Sales, marketing, engineering, customer support etc. – but still someone has to be empowered to make the tough decisions.

Design by committee exists in many companies, rarely by design. It’s is something that creeps into the culture, usually with the best intentions.

Shouldn’t we consider all points of view when making key product decisions? What if sales prefer a different design concept to the other stakeholders? Shouldn’t we consider their point of view, to ensure we end up with the best possible product?

All points of view should be considered, there is no harm in hearing opposing opinions. Understanding what people think.

In fact, this is a vital part of the development process. However, this cannot be allowed to dilute the product design, its focus, what you are trying to achieve. Sometimes, something just has to give. Like most things in life, you can’t please everyone all the time.

You want to ensure that you produce the best product you can. That you fulfil your product vision and create a great user experience for all of your customers. When considering opinions, you need to do just that, consider them, not just implement them. This does not mean that you have to agree with or satisfy everyone’s requirements. Sometimes the right decision is to decide to move on with the product as you planned, regardless of the comments received.

Great development teams, are given a brief of the key design targets, an outline and then given the freedom to create the best possible product that fulfils this brief. They should be empowered to create the desired product outcomes, but in the way they envisage. This allows creativity to flow, unconstrained.

With that said, they need to be answerable to the brief, answerable to the customer. This is where having a product owner, someone who speaks on behalf of the customer and the overall product vision is vital.

If all stakeholders are allowed to influence the product direction unmoderated, the likely outcome is an ok product, but unlikely a great one. When every comment made is immediately factored into a design, it leads to a dilution of potentially great features.

Production may prefer that you don’t add that last process, the finishing touches, as it takes longer, they aren’t set up for that. This may be a valid point, but if the finish from this process, is the icing on your metaphorical product cake, then a tough decision must be made. It has to stay!

The easy answer is to try and remove said process, it keeps them happy and it doesn’t make that much difference, right?

The question we need to ask is, who are you developing this product for? Production or your customer? What if that final detail is the defining feature between you and your competitor, the detail that makes them want to choose your product over all others!

Having one point of truth, a product owner, alleviates this. They are the one to make the decision, they consider all sides of the argument and then make the decision that is best for the product, best for the customer and no one else.

The role of the product owner is often filled by a product manager, but not always. The product owner can be anyone that has been empowered by the organisation to make the decisions that matter about the product and have the authority to do so. Without fear of being overruled. In most cases, the role of product owner either falls to the head of product, product manager, development lead or the CEO.

Apple is one of the best examples of this type of mentality. They decide on what to add to the product based on what they can achieve and achieve well. They are loathed to add a feature, just because everyone else is doing it, because people might like it. If they can’t do it well or it doesn’t fit in with their overriding vision for the product, then it doesn’t make the cut. This can be frustrating when you want something and it isn’t there. But you must ask yourself what is worse, having an “ok” feature or not having that feature at all.

If you’re going to do it, then do it right!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s