Stop letting friction into your product culture

November 17, 2017

Many companies today building software products tend to operate in distinct silos. Design, Product, Development and QA often end up working within their own departments.

As these departments focus on different areas, metrics and goals, this approach would appear to make sense. Development wants to maximise uptime, Design wants to keep UX metrics high and Product wants to ensure everything contributes to business outcomes (amongst other things).

However, this approach can lead to a culture of friction. People come together only when they have to. Teams communicate through tickets instead of talking to each other physically. Communication ends up limited unless someone is making an effort. Staff ultimately may leave.

The result of this is that a product is “passed” from section to section. The assembly line approach can end up taking place. Executives dictate ideas/visions. Designers design, perhaps executives request some changes but it goes to development. The rest of the teams involved are left to follow suit.

Some of you may be thinking — sure, but that’s just how a company works. Executives choose, ideas fall down the chain, the rest just do. I’m sure many successful companies operate this way. But they don’t have to. Friction has negative impacts. But it can be reduce — companies can thrive and employees can be happy. Here’s how you can put friction to bed.

1 — Collaborate at every step of the journey

Building a Product is a team effort, not a bunch of individuals working on their own. As your product goes from design to coding, testing and finally production, teams need to work closely together. Development needs input on design and design needs input on development

Just because one employee works in one area of the business doesn’t mean they don’t have a wealth of knowledge outside of that area. If you’re not collaborating, you are closing off the flow of potentially invaluable information between individuals. 

2 — Consider whether silo departments are the right approach

If you stop and ask staff whether they’d like more opportunities to learn, you might just find that many do. A popular framework that many startups use today is using smaller, cross-functional teams that focus on certain goals or metrics. Many companies lack the resources to even core just core development, so informal teams can be used instead.

Informal groups involve bringing cross-functional employees together and giving them goals to focus on outside of core development. This encourages people to use their spare time effectively for the better of the business and their own learning. The upside is huge — having subject matter experts across many different KPIs is priceless. 

3 — Break down the Chain of Command

Employees don’t want to feel like cogs in a machine. Having ideas flow from the top down without any other input is a great way to create friction.

Two heads (or lots more) are better than one

This isn’t to say that a business should become a democracy. Staff that live everyday with the product and customers likely wield more practical knowledge than a senior executive. Some of the best ideas can come from the bottom of the chain.

At the end of the day, Senior executives are not the Confucius/Master Genie of all knowledge about what a company does. Just because they have a title does not mean that they know it all.

4 — Always remember why employees are employees

Never forget that people were employed in the first place for a reason. Whether that was because they are super hard-workers or because they’re way smarter than anybody else, they are there for a reason. 

Talented people often choose to work in a company for more than just money. They want to make a difference, create something new or work with other extremely talented people. Many of these ideas are concepts bigger than the company itself.

As a result, don’t stick employees into a certain hole and leave them there. Encourage people to grow and develop. Let their smarts shine, and task them with more than “just making money”. After all, there is way more motivation in changing other people’s lives or creating the most innovative product than boosting the company’s bottom line.

This article originally appeared here on my blog.

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