Excessively searching for inner harmony?

6 01 2009


Dwelling in insipidness.

Most of us run shy from the battle meetings that some times burst out at the office. We lament the moment someone steps into someone else’s toes and hell breaks loose; that is, when someone finds a pitched product lacks and offers an unbiased critic. Though the intention might have been good, we all know most people tend to take things personally, so what was an impartial argument was really a “my idea is better” fire cracker. 

... fight off the Furry trio of foxes by jillallyn

... fight off the Furry trio of foxes by jillallyn

In this kind of meetings -generally product or functionality definition reunions- arguments are rapidly fired back and forth, escalating in tone and reducing in value, swiftly reaching the screaming point. And suddenly magic happens! Tones go down to a civilized volume, arguments are organized and the meeting ends with an action plan. Time for joy?

Why then, is everyone who was in that room leaving it with contorted faces and the pitcher is mumbling incoherently?  Chances are someone at the meeting with a leadership position suffering from reunion-battle aversion stood up and tried hard to tone down the meeting thru several maneuvers that will end dismissing and superseding research findings and crafting a false sense of participation.

Why invent the wheel?

When you hear this or something by the lines it means your managers or the leaders of your organization are giving up, are growing very tired of facing every argument and prefer to find an easier route out of the problem. I am not talking about time proven procedures here, what I am thinking of are the times when you having understood your audience needs and aligned them to your business goals have produced a new feature design and someone else says: I prefer to copy cat. 

Oh sure, copying what others have done in your industry will help you reduce design time, and it might even produce something useful for your audience but then you’ll be just one more grain of sand at the beach. You might have rationalized why your competitors have developed such a feature; yet, what you’re copying today might be aimed to a similar audience with similar needs to your own but otherwise it is another set of people and will soon leave you clueless as to what might have gone wrong.

Democratize the process

Maybe the arguments, the shouts and the screams were because someone felt like they were left out of the decision process? Asking everyone to cast their vote would help them feel part of the process, wouldn’t it? Perhaps some of your employees and coworkers will fall for this stunt, but sooner or later they would realize it was a vain attempt, something that neither establishes a culture for participation nor adds value to the processes by itself. Voting on functionalities or priorities gives everyone a chance to have their say and will produce a warm feeling of order; however, the final product will be a produce of everyone’s gut feelings, a blend of what Tom from accounting thinks is important with what Alice from operations thinks her costumers need. 

Instead of wildly gathering votes unexpectedly, organizations should institute ways by which the people designing their products/features leave their ivory towers and aside from hearing the costumer voice, mingle with their coworkers, understand their needs and assess their great ideas. As for how to settle priorities and defining what to work, organizations could introduce a method by which every feature and product could be evaluated against business indicators (how they will be affected), brand stance and audience needs –easier to say than to follow-.

Even though these methods, and others, might prove useful from time to time when the hordes are running wild, I believe if they are used frequently you are playing for consensus instead of giving people on decision making roles the chance to proof their worth. Don’t get me wrong, I do understand a harmonized office environment works marvels for everyone involved and it is part of managers’ role to keep a close watch on it, but when the priority is on making everyone comfortable at work instead of producing kick ass products something is really unbalanced out there.

Continuously struggling to bring consensus to the decision table will cut the sharp edges from your produces, eliminate their singularities and with time make them just something anyone else can offer. You will end with a very harmonic working environment but with an undifferentiated product. Why wait for a final meeting to find the stressing points, instead work on serializing the decision process (establish check points during the design phase) in which people who must have a saying could have it in an organized way thus producing a product in which everyone who had to collaborate did and ingrained it with sharp edges.




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