You might have the most innovative idea in the world, the most committed management team, and more funding than you could ever need – but if you can’t deliver a quality product to your customers on time, you’re in serious trouble.
Maintaining a competitive edge requires product design teams to be willing and able to turn a prototype into a minimum viable product in the shortest period of time possible, while still staying true to the product vision.
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Here are the five practices we believe made it possible to produce an excellent product in such a short period of time, instead of the years other projects of similar complexity have take.
1. Sell it before you build it
In the case of eLula, it was sold before it was even built.
The client made an order, paid a deposit and we had agreed on a due date. All of a sudden, a product that had been dreamed of and discussed for years needed to be a physical, working reality in five months.
Of course, we weren’t letting the customer design our product – we had a strong product vision and roadmap that we sold to them with beautiful prototypes and impressive demonstrator models. But when we formally kicked off the project, those were broken down and the product redesigned from scratch to ensure we hadn’t converged on any solutions too early.
This pressure kept everyone focused.
Engineers were prevented from getting distracted with adding additional features, and the sales team was unable to add in more requirements. We were working towards building the simplest, most fundamental solution – anything else could be added later. There was no chance of getting derailed, it had to be done and it had to be done fast. This meant we had a strong purpose and a clear direction right from the start.
This also helps resolve lengthy design meetings faster: What does the client need? What is our real purpose here today?
2. Have a central cog in the machine
This doesn’t mean you need a dedicated, purely administrative project manager; in fact, that can reduce productivity. Rather, designate a member of the technical team who touches all parts of the development, has enough generalist knowledge of each segment of the project, and can keep the separate parts linked. If something is going on with one part of the development that impacts another, this is the person that will keep the project on track.
Additionally, this person does not necessarily have to be senior. We’ve found that a non-hierarchical system has its benefits, reducing stress on those working on the development.
3. Make it an ego-free zone
You need to realise straight away that building a great product is more important than your own ego or gratification. We’re not just being cute or cliché when we say this, but you’ll get all of that and more when you see the product being used and enjoyed by end-users.
Establish a company culture where people can be wrong, and get it right quickly.
This is exactly how we work. No matter the seniority of an individual, if they come up with a bad idea, people can call that out and we quickly move on. No feelings are hurt.
You need to care more about the success of the product than you do about your own (or others’) ego.
4. Get face-to-face with suppliers
Suppliers play a role far larger than simply making sure you have the correct kit.
If things go wrong during the development process, you need them on hand to put things right quickly. With this in mind, it is important to get to know them, and there is no better way to do this than to get face-to-face with them.
Build empathy. Make sure they are as invested in the project as you. The service you receive will be all the better for it.
During the development of eLula, Nomanini sent a representative to China to meet our suppliers. By spending time with them at their factory, we got more done in one day than we would have done in a week working remotely. And these guys were good at their job anyway.
Personal, honest relationships with account managers help a lot. If you’re open about what you understand and what you don’t understand, they can’t help but empathise with you. And if they don’t, it might be time to get yourself a new supplier.
5. Have a generalist team
People have different affinities for different things, and everybody has their specific talents. However, if everyone also has a generalist grasp of the entire product, the whole process will run much more smoothly – and you won’t need to have the heads of different teams translating requirements to each other.
In fact, if you can make your team generalist enough, you may not even need demarcated teams at all.
If one person is working on one part of the development and requires assistance, any other member of the team that has capacity can assist. This mix-and-match system can make the whole product building process much quicker and, especially in small teams, prevents over-reliance on key team members.
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