Culture is everything.
Culture determines who you hire, what products you build, how you build those products, and thus ultimately the value of your business. If you set up the wrong organizational culture you are doomed to failure, no matter how talented individual employees are or how attractive the market you are attacking.
Are Your Winners People or Ideas?
Last night I went to a meetup for Product Managers. We had a 45 minute discussion on the value of arguing in an organization. Note, the topic was on arguing, not debating, but that’s a separate point. What became clear to me during the discussion is that many organizations set up cultures where people are winners or losers rather than ideas. The result of that is that there is a lot of pressure put on picking winning ideas. Not surprisingly, those environments are highly political and thus have a lot of arguing.
There is a BETTER way!
Don’t take it from me, go read Lean Startup. In it, Eric Ries explains the best culture for innovation. Great companies build a culture of testing, rather than arguing. In this culture, everything is a hypothesis regardless of who authors it. Every hypothesis has a key metric that is set (along with the baseline) before the test. Tests are set up to be run as quickly and as labor light as possible. Test are pushed as frequently as possible. The results of the test determine the answer, NOT a person’s ability to out argue (or rather out shout) another person. Repeat this over and over. That is what the word “iterate” means. And in my experience it is the ONLY way to build a product unless you are Steve Jobs, which you are not.
But I Can Make The Numbers Say What I Want
Bullshit! You can’t “massage” the numbers. Set up the measurement of a key statistic and run the test. Give everyone access to the dashboard so they can see the data. No one keeps the data secret and builds a Powerpoint presentation. The data is out in the open.
Continuous Deployment…no Sprints…and certainly NO WATERFALL
To fully achieve this culture, you have to move to continuous deployment. To my understanding Etsy is the leader in this. I highly recommend you read their blog, Craft as Code. When I first heard about continuous deployment, I was very nervous to try this approach. What if a push breaks something big? But once we moved to continuous deployment, I fell in love. And I will never go back. There is truly no better way to iterate on a product. Lord help you if you are still doing waterfall.
Inertia is hard to change. Especially if you are not the CEO of a company, and even then it is really hard (see: Marissa Mayer). If it is too daunting for your organization to make a massive culture change, then don’t start there. Pick a small project or feature release to try this new approach with…I.e. start with a test.