Yin and yang. Fire and ice. Maverick and Iceman. Design and engineering. While it may be entertaining to watch the opposite forces go at it, making great products requires that those forces work together.
When that happens and the cross-functional team is on the high gear, all that friction turning into energy enables the team to go forward at an unbelievable pace. No day is the same. No one settles for the status quo, and everything moves like crazy, unfortunately including features, schedules and the confidence to any commitments given.
The best way for the product guy to fix the situation? Duh. Never let things go so far out of hand.
Not easy, but it can be done. The prevention starts with the product guy understanding the prevailing corporate culture. More specifically, how does the gravity work in the power balance between design (either UI design or industrial design) and engineering (either hardware or software). For example, I worked at Nokia where, in my opinion, the engineering had the upper hand, especially in software, though the gap did start to close as fast as the iPhone ate market share, including some periods of an excessive pendulum swing the other way.
In any given day, the product guy should make the extra effort to be on the side of the weaker, or the misunderstood, party. This isn’t really because rooting for the underdog is a more interesting movie plot, or because product guys somehow are better people, but because of the mission ahead. Greatness often is the result of minds the meeting in the tough debate that stretches the boundaries (and the nerves) of everyone. Had Marty McFly had not the courage to coach George McFly stand up to the bullying of Biff, Michael J.Fox wouldn’t have gone to rule the box office (and, by the way, to help to create a foundation that supports medical research in beating Parkinson’s disease with about 50 MUSD yearly spend)
But how to relate to those trendy design folks? Is it a problem if the product guy can’t fit his kids and the he-ain’t-puppy-no-more -sized dog into a Mini Cooper, but has to opt for a Volkswagen Touran instead? Or that he prefers football shirts over turtlenecks? Or thinks that 5 euros for the coffee that is more milk than coffee, is just modern day highway robbery? The list of self-doubt goes on and on and on…
The solution is that the product guy must find her/his inner hipster.
Now, I don’t mean just suddenly starting to wear intellectual-looking wardrobe or to instagram every piece of lunch the Sodexho office campus cafeteria offers. Nobody wants to be as shallow as Justin Timberlake in Bad Teacher (who, as the Touran-driving product guy wants to note, ultimately was no match to the gym teacher in the quest for Cameron Diaz’s affection)
The point is to be interested in aesthetics, good taste, emotion and beauty. And, like the sometimes forgotten definition of hipster, do that by not taking yourself too seriously, always remembering the difference of actually being intellectual or artistic, and just playing the role. The more open the product guy’s mind, the more he will learn to respect the masters of the artistic universe. And the tens of thousands of hours of practice it takes to become great, often starting early. Mozart delivered his first opera at the age of 12 and Justin Bieber his first youtube hit at 13.
Through the journey of learning to respect the mastery of art, and learning to separate the real from the fake and the wanna-be, the product guy gets the answer to the most mission critical decision around design– who should I trust in the decision of aesthetics and good taste in this particular product.
With an open mind, you may find helpful talent in unexpected places. For example, during my Nokia years, I found many middle-aged, loafer-wearing engineers from places like Jyväskylä (Finland) or Ulm (Germany) to be highly aesthetically competent. And these places don’t have any Starbucks or much choice of a sushi place, so the nurturing of the contemporary art skills shouldn’t be possible. But those places have great outdoors, and, when you really think of it, the nature is one of the most beautiful things ever.
Nature is the answer also if the cross-functional friction turns into an all-out full office warfare. Take your running shoes, put your sportstracker on, and take a run into the woods. And when no one hears, scream your lungs out. It helps.
Happened in the previous episodes of Product Guy series:
- Intro to product guy series – why and the definition of ‘product guy’
- Product guy – know your theories – Aristotle and stuff
- Product guy – make one scoreboard – with a tribute to air traffic controller movies
Stay tuned for the next episode: Product guy – dream living other people’s lives