Planned Design vs. Iteration

Business by on December 29, 2006 at 2:49 am

Planned Design and Iteration Speed frequently conflict in product design. The Planned Designers argue for time spent understanding the user and the market, developing mockups, gathering feedback and building for the perfect product at launch. This is the approach taught in schools (engineering and business alike), is touted by consultants (even some VCs) and is practical for many organizations. It is almost always the wrong approach for Internet startups.

Planned Design resulted from a century of learning about manufactured products where manufacturing, distribution and feedback cycles that were measured in months (sometimes years).

The Iterators argue for rapid product releases, detailed measurement and quick learning. The best learning happens with real users actually using the product. They measure ruthlessly and listen fiercly, carefully following how their users interact with the site. Web-based products can and must be iterated in days (actually hours).

The Iterative Design approach doesn’t mean that all of the things the Planned Designers do aren’t important. They just cannot be serial and they cannot be allowed slow the introduction of a product to market. The initial product must engages a small core of users – this is accomplished through some elements of planned design or through a strong vision of a product visionary.

A successful Iterative team requires three key roles:

  • Product Visionary. This person needs to have an instinctual understanding of the user and leads the requirements setting for the product. He may naturally possess this understanding, or rarely he may acquire it through study and research of users. He must be able to communicate and inspire others to realize his vision and he must be comfortable operating at both a very strategic and tactical level. He also must be flexible enough to learn from his users. Frequently a product manager or designer. Often the CEO. The most critical person in the launch of a new product.
  • Data Analyst. This person immerses himself in the product metrics. He sets, tracks and derives meaning from the data that results from users interacting with the product. He determines what changes are successful and why. Often the product visionary, but can also be a seperate person.
  • Iterative Development Leader. This person builds a development team that iterates rapidly and efficiently. He is comfortable with limited detail in long-range plans, as the bulk of the detail is set in short, rapid bursts. He fights the natural desire of developers to plan and replaces it with a pride in nimbleness.
Planned Design reduces the need for the Product Visionary or the Agile Development Leader, but the cost is slower iteration cycles, slower learning and ultimately a product that is overtaken in the marketplace.

1 Comment

  1. […] ultimately better meeting the needs of the marketplace. If you’re a business that depends on iteration, identifying and improving upon your weaknesses in this cycle is […]

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