Role Playing at an Intersection

Today I wanted to reflect on my role in the team on the Recon Jet Project. This project is another chance for me to experiment with the intersection between design and development disciplines. As many of us have learned, there are many ways to communicate our intentions and proposed solutions in digital media. One of the greater issues in digital creation is the fundamental difference in how designers and developers communicate and work. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with my contemporaries about the near-misses and train wrecks that have been caused by ill communication between designers and developers. The problem amplifies as companies build design departments and agile development teams that have no way of working together. What do you do if you feel like you’re both a developer and a designer and feel that picking sides isn’t the best way forward?

As with most research, I have more questions than answers. How do we negotiate these differences between developers and designers? Can we start by beginning to understand the differences in perspectives and building a bridge by agreeing upon common language and shared work methodologies?

I’m fascinated by how differently we think and how culture plays such a huge part in how we interpret the world. It’s become one of my favourite dinner conversations at my house, many of the discussions stem from this article that I read about how Americans see the world differently called We Aren’t the World which is based on a research paper called The Weirdest People in the World

I’ve chosen to challenge myself this term by not playing the role of the typical UX designer as this is an area that I’ve spent 15 years practising and teaching. It’s not to say that I’ve learned all there is to know about design, but rather that one of the areas that much of the design industry is still in the dark about is the communication with developers. I would go so far as to say that designers become better at design by learning more about coding and how programmers think.

The way to explore this intersection will be using Lean UX methods. If you’re curious to know more about Lean UX, here’s a great article by Jeff Gothelf, the author of O’Reilly’s Lean UX book:

What are your experiences of negotiating the designer/developer intersection?

Going from Good to Great

This year I read the bestseller book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. Along with a fair share of buzzwords and hype are some great bits of advice for entrepreneurs. Here’s a summary of the book broken down by chapter.

Chapter 1: Good is the Enemy of Great

The profound point that Collins makes is that, paradoxically, “good” can be the enemy of “great”, insofar as if your goal is to simply be good at something, you will make decisions based on that and may miss some of the key opportunities or be afraid to take some of the crucial risks required to become great.

Chapter 2: Level 5 Leadership

Level 5 Leaders embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will.

Collins begins the process of identifying and explicating the unique factors and variables that differentiate good and great companies. One of the most significant differences, he asserts, is the quality and nature of leadership in the firm. Collins goes on to identify “Level 5 leadership” as a common characteristic of the great companies assessed in the study. This type of leadership forms the top level of a 5-level hierarchy that ranges from merely competent supervision to strategic executive decision-making.

Chapter 3: First Who, Then What

Get the right people on the bus

First one needs to get the ‘right’ people on the bus
Then figure out the best path to greatness.

Collins states that the process of securing high-quality, high-talent individuals with Level 5 leadership abilities must be undertaken before an overarching strategy can be developed. With the right people in the right positions, Collins contends that many of the management problems that plague companies and sap valuable resources will automatically dissipate.

Chapter 4: Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith)

Another key element of some companies’ unique ability to make the transition from Good to Great is the willingness to identify and assess defining facts in the company and in the larger business environment. In today’s market, trends in consumer preferences are constantly changing, and the inability to keep pace with these changes often results in company failure.

Collins outlines a four-step process to promote awareness of emerging trends and potential problems:

  1. 1) Lead with questions, not answers;
  2. 2) Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion;
  3. 3) Conduct autopsies without blame;
  4. 4) Build red flag mechanisms that turn information into information that cannot be ignored.

Chapter 5: The Hedgehog Concept

In this chapter, Collins uses the metaphor of the hedgehog to illustrate the seemingly contradictory principle that simplicity can sometimes lead to greatness. When confronted by predators, the hedgehog’s simple but surprisingly effective response is to roll up into a ball. While other predators, such as the fox, may be impressively clever, few can devise a strategy that is effective enough to overcome the hedgehog’s simple, repetitive response.

In order to help expedite this process, Collins suggests using the following three criteria:

Chapter 6: A Culture of Discipline

Another defining characteristic of the companies that Collins defined as great in his study was an overarching organizational culture of discipline. He is quick to point out that a culture of discipline is not to be confused with a strict authoritarian environment; instead, Collins is referring to an organization in which each manager and staff member is driven by an unrelenting inner sense of determination. In this type of organization, each individual functions as an entrepreneur, with a deeply rooted personal investment in both their own work and the company’s success.

The author asserts, it is important that within this overarching culture of discipline, every team member is afforded the degree of personal empowerment and latitude that is necessary to ensure that they will be able to go to unheard-of extremes to bring the firm’s envisioned objectives into existence.

Chapter 7: Technology Accelerators

Collins contends that the good-to-great companies approach the prospect of new and emerging technologies with the same prudence and careful deliberation that characterizes all of their other business decisions. Further, these companies tend to apply technology in a manner that is reflective of their “hedgehog concepts” — typically by selecting and focusing solely upon the development of a few technologies that are fundamentally compatible with their established strengths and objectives. Collins characterizes the ideal approach to technology with the following cycle: “Pause — Think — Crawl — Walk — Run.”

Chapter 8: The Flywheel and the Doom Loop

In this chapter, Collins describes two cycles that demonstrate the way that business decisions tend to accumulate incrementally in either an advantageous or a disadvantageous manner. Despite the popular misconception that business success or failure often occurs suddenly, Collins asserts that it more typically occurs over the course of years, and that both only transpire after sufficient positive or negative momentum has been accrued.

Planning a business creatively

When you set out to create a business the first step should be inspiring, thoughtful and fun. Although most proper businesses have all started with the creation of a business plan they tends to be a slow and tedious process. But it can be done differently, a business plan can be exciting, emotional and filled with surprises if it’s done creatively.

When I formed LiFT Studios in 2007 I went through the process of writing a business plan as any diligent person would. I have to admit it wasn’t that much fun. You would think it would be a good time, after all if done correctly, it’s about your aspirations and dreams. I looked at many templates online and reviewed my notes from taking Canada’s government program for Entrepreneurs and Self Employment in 1997. It wasn’t painful but it certainly lacked excitement and I promised myself that I would revisit the business planning process each year to reassess the business.

It’s now that time in the year when I reevaluate the business and see if the company goals align with my own. This is also an opportunity to readdress the businesses objectives and make LiFT better. This time I’ve introduced a few new variables to the process – a few books have been add to the toolkit and a couple of smart people have been invited to participate.

I’ll be adding to this posting as more unravels. For now the first of the books is summarized here.