I’ve become a fan of Aaron Schildkrout’s philosophy for the product development process, since I became familiar with his 7 Part series in Fast Company’s Co.LABS, Value-Driven Product Development: Using Value Propositions to Build a Rigorous Product Roadmap, and mentioned it in Don’t Fall in Love with Your Product. Aaron is the founder and co-CEO at HowAboutWe.com
His “theory and practice of product development” is a breath of fresh air that adds to the Lean and Agile practices that are well known to startups. There’s a big emphasis on process in Aaron’s thinking, but also on creativity, taking risks and curiosity.
Here are the 10 Core Principles of Product Development from the first article in this series, Unblocked: A Guide to Making Things People Love, with my commentary. But you will need to read the original article right after. This is just a teaser for the whole series.
1-Processes are the circulatory systems of a company
Whether it’s Lean Startup or Agile Programming, every methodology has a process behind it. “Great processes help to ensure smart, wasteless action.” Stick to processes that work. They work for a reason. Don’t re-invent every wheel.
2- Curiosity is what gets things done
In addition to getting things done on schedule, don’t be afraid to deviate a little, and you might discover some interesting things. “Curiosity unleashed is a lion, not a sheep.”
3- You are a scientist running experiments
This is my favorite, and it ties with what Michael Moritz (chairman of Sequoia Capital) said in this Charlie Rose interview, “The germ of an idea doesn’t come out of business school. It comes out of a laboratory or experiment somewhere.”
As a creator, you must create. Creating doesn’t have a map or cookbook. It has a laboratory. Aaron says “Your essential methodology is the scientific method: Hypothesize. Build. Learn. Iterate. Repeat. This is curiosity, manifest.”
4- Processes are also products
Early stage startups don’t full appreciate the value of a process because of the perception that it slows you down. But when you adopt Lean or Agile, these are based on tried and true processes. Think of discipline as a process. If you are disciplined about certain things, you will succeed. Why? Because bad processes, bad habits and no discipline kill you. “You should cultivate in yourself an allergic reaction to bad processes.”
5- Great processes constantly evolve
In this 2009 video, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus on scaling a business, Mark says almost everything at Zynga had a process, as soon as they started to scale. So, don’t forget to improve processes too, and don’t make them too rigid or inflexible, “The most painless and effective way to evolve your processes over time is to build into them structures that ensure perpetual improvement.”
6- Pick smart tools
There is no shortage of technology or marketing automation tools. Picking the right one or building it if doesn’t exist is key. Here’s a short list of recent hot and upcoming front-end and back-end development tools from Mattermark, 20 Popular Developer Tools Startups – Shovels & Pick-Axes for the Gold Miners of the Internet Age.
7- Make your processes invisible
A process is supposed to make things flow better. “Great processes shouldn’t yield maniacal attention to detail when detail isn’t what’s needed. Great processes should result in rapid, effective decision-making.”
8- Don’t forget the human part
“Great things get made when people are inspired, and inspiration needs tending.” So true. In my experience, the best processes can be shot down by a person who doesn’t want to make it work. Alternatively, a not-so-perfect process can still work, if someone makes it happen.
9- It’s worth the effort
Another side benefit of clearly documented and understood processes is they become part of the roles and responsibilities of employees. “Take it upon yourself to make sure everyone knows what they need to do, has what they need to do this, and understands why doing it will help the company achieve deep, inspiring goals.”
10- Stop fearing failure
It’s all about growth. When you grow, you are entering an unknown territory. “Growth requires doing things whose outcome cannot be predicted, and learning requires failing.” “Build process that let failure be an acceptable–even celebrated–source of fuel for your next victory.”
There’s a big reliance on process throughout, and some of you might get daunted by it. But don’t be. A process could be a simple series of steps that show discipline, and processes don’t have to be complicated.
A good process should provide clarity and let you accomplish things more efficiently.
Embrace a process, and you will find a bit of order and certainty amidst the fast and furious chaos of running a startup.