Not a Cog

I've been doing some thinking lately on what makes me tick and what sort of work makes me happy. I like places where I'm not a cog and where the way I like to work matters. I want to have an opinion on my work and process, and I want people to have enough respect for me to listen to that opinion and really consider it.

I realize this is a big ask. Institutions resist change. Whether that change change is proposing that the earth is round and rotates around the sun or if you're just suggesting Basecamp vs Asana. However, what sets good companies apart from mediocre is the ability to constantly re-evaluate and try new things. Whatever your (or my) solution is, I am positive there is a better solution out there.

I have one concrete example

A lot of agile companies have this thing called MVP. The italics are because the companies I've worked with using agile are anything but. The MVP is supposed to be the minimally viable product, and the basic genesis of that idea is fine. Realistically, what it's turned into is releasing a half-baked turd and moving on.

I have a several issues with that process. I'll keep it brief because that's not really the focus.

What I've seen is that Company X will start with a "North Star" that is at best a sketch shown to user groups until Company X can spin the data enough to support their opinions. Then Company X can take that that one big idea and chunk it up into small bits of work. These are supposed to be good products on their own, but they aren't because big ideas don't conveniently break up into work that lines up with your arbitrary increment. So, Company X releases a half-baked turd based on the assumption that they will stick with this product long enough for that turd to shine.

For starters, North Star work is a guess. We can user test, but it's still a guess. Users don't know what they want. I'm not disrespecting user testing, it has a place, but it's not a black and white confident answer. Which is inconvenient for leadership.

My proposal would be to have that North Star big idea, but at this point it's just a mental exercise. Then take that idea and simplify it until we are just solving one customer problem. And we do that really well. It may take six weeks, it might take eight, but we'll release it when we're proud of it. It doesn't have to be perfect, but it does have to be good. And then we'll start watching people use it. We'll still do user testing, but we'll do it with a real product. Even better, we'll get real feedback from real users spending real time or money and we'll get the more slippery feedback like analytics.

Odds are good that our North Star is more northwest than we thought. It's amazing how a product can evolve once it's being used. Look at the iPhone, Wordpress, Google, or any of a thousand good examples. Very few products go the way we expect once users start using.

Back to the point

I want to work with people who are cool going from process A to process B, or at least trying it (or even just maybe listening). I could be wrong, I know that. But I could also be right. And if you're a company who embraces change, then going from process X to process Y is not a major operation.

I had this amazing manager at Amazon. I knew he was good, but didn't know how good until he'd moved on. One of the things I liked best about him is that he was never married to a certain process. If we wanted to try something new, he'd try his best to make it work. We never found the perfect process, but we found ones that worked better for us. And when new people joined, we'd include them and evolve it based on their needs. People over process.

So, do you build your company around processes, or do you build them around people?