When a digital product is well designed, it is intuitive to use and it performs well, you can feel it. That feeling is what differentiate some product from the rest and, beyond the imperceptible, it has a clear impact on the business. Offering that kind of experience should be the ultimate goal of any company offering a digital product.
To achieve this, many times it is believed that you need to invest in a specific technology, the best cloud services or the largest and most skilled engineering team. The problem is that none of this ensures that we create a good product. The problem is to think that a product can exist without design or engineering.
In order to create a good digital product, it is essential that design and engineering think and work together on the user's problem. In this way we will get a unified solution making use of the resources that we have or want to allocate to solve the problem.
Unfortunately, many companies still understand product development as an assembly line where everyone contributes individually. At the beginning of the supply chain is the designer who defines and specifies the solution in isolation. This design that lacks any technical context reaches the developer who must implement it. Or try it. And this is where the problems begin.
The problems of working in silos
It is usually very evident when the different teams that make the product work in silos. One of the main problems is the implementation of a design that has been "designed in a vacuum". That is, ignoring any technical or temporal limitations, designed on a blank canvas, as if it had no life beyond Figma's screen.
This causes situations as:
- Lack of interactions and components that have not been taken into account as error alerts, empty states or navigation flows. This can lead to the developer taking the initiative and creating those missing components without following any design guidelines.
- The implementation of a design that technically can be complex to execute in a given deadline, either due to architectural, technological or information flow limitations.
Of course, this problem also occurs the other way round, when design is relegated to the last link in the product chain and engineering carries all the weight. This usually occurs in companies with a lack of design culture, when it is understood that design is only aesthetics and not functionality, usability or experience. In these cases the following situations may occur:
- Lack of freedom when designing the solution that lead to the creation of interfaces with no personality.
- The feeling of disconnection with the company or the product when working in silos and disregarding the importance of design.
These problems usually end the same way: delivering a lower quality product or increasing project scope. Both are equally negative and have a clear impact on the business.
As it is believed in thecnology, "everything is possible". And yes it is. In an idyllic scenario of unlimited time and resources, any barrier or impediment can be solved. But unfortunately all businesses face a reality where resources and time are limited. This is where the "tradeoff" comes, that word that nobody likes but is so necessary. Trade-offs have to be made. Always. And deciding those trade-offs is only possible if design and engineering work together from the start on the problem.
This lack of communication in the different product teams not only negatively impacts the quality of the final result and consequently the business, but it can become a drain on professionals who leave the project due to lack of ownership.
How can I get started with a united design and development team
There are many ways to create product teams with multidisciplinary profiles and depending on the size and the time of the company we will find very different challenges. In this article we are not going to deep dive into this as we do not consider ourselves experts on the subject. What we can contribute is our experience on how we work and put some of our references in context.
At Reboot we have worked from the beginning understanding Product as the indivisible sum of design and technology. To be honest, it was nothing premeditated. We began to work in this way at Cravy by pure intuition, without being aware that this responded to a specific method or philosophy. Ivan has always had the vision and taste for design and I have been focused on the technical part, so when we made decisions it was natural for us to contrast both visions and arrive at an aligned solution. As we evolved and learned from other companies that inspired us, we discovered that this type of work methodology can be standardized.
We are currently working with a variant of Shape Up adapted to our small structure. It is the methodology that the people of Basecamp use to develop their products and, from the moment we read the book, it fitted us very well with the way we understood and worked on the product.
Some of the key aspects to highlight of this methodology are:
- Invest more time in defining the solution to the problem that you want to implement, taking into account not only what you want to do, but also the time you want to invest and the technical limitations that may exist.
- Create small teams in which both designers and engineers work together to solve the problem that has been defined.
- Give greater autonomy and responsibility to the team that is developing the solution once defined, as well as the agreed time and availability.
Other companies that we like and from which we have learned through its contents is the Linear team, a Project Management application with an incredible design and experience. You can discover more how they think and work in this article where they explain their method.
But we don't have to go too far either, in Spain the guys from Factorial take great care of their product and have a really interesting interview where Pau Ramon (CTO of Factorial) talks about this and many other topics (from minute 11).
Companies like products are alive and constantly evolving. The structures, processes and methodologies do not apply the same to a company of 100, 30 or 3 employees. But in each and every one of these stages it is possible to create a great digital product when all the parts work together and efficiently making use of the large amount of resources and tools that we have today.
From Reboot we can help you establish that first product team and work on a methodology that allows you to deliver quality product iteratively.