Aim slow, shoot fast.
I’m generally quite impatient. As it turns out, this trait is sought after in today’s rapid, iterative product development process. Lucky me.
Terms like ‘agile’ and ‘growth hacking’ have become so ubiquitous that they practically obscure their underlying tenets. Entering the workforce, industry’s insatiable desire for speedy iterations suited me down to the ground. After a long, slow undergraduate degree, I was more than ready to hit the ground running.
Over the years I began to notice that sometimes my teams would move fast and generate brilliant outcomes, yet other times we would move fast and end up chasing our tails, producing very little in the way of tangible, effective outcomes. Why was this happening? We were still being ‘lean’ and ‘agile’… the buzz words provided no further guidance.
Over time, sure enough, a pattern started to emerge.
Successful projects began with a problem. Unsuccessful ones began with a solution. When handed a big juicy problem to solve, we would immerse ourselves, generating a deep understanding of why we were there. Building empathy was automatic.
It may sound counter-intuitive. Spending more time at the beginning results in a faster, higher quality outcome, but in reality, you’ve heard this throughout your life via truisms like “measure twice, cut once.” Another way I like to think of it is ‘In order to shoot fast, you must first aim slow… if you plan on hitting your target.’
Why is it that a team’s understanding and alignment on ‘the why’ make such a monumental difference to the quality of the outcome and the time it takes to deliver? The reason I posit is this; when people are focused on a solution or output, they are unable to rapidly adapt to changes in order to achieve the desired outcome.
I would liken this to tasking a ship to sail in a straight line without a compass. Everything is fine while seas are calm, and the initial direction set is accurate. However, as soon as a storm hits, or the ship needs to navigate around an obstacle, they are unable to accurately adjust back to the original heading. They continue in a straight line — in the wrong direction.
When the team’s energy is spent on creatively implementing an idea, it isn’t spent creatively solving a problem. This inevitably leads to teams focusing on ticking the boxes of a process, rather than thinking objectively about what might actually add value. This is something which I have observed again and again in the various permutations of human centred design.
Instead of focusing on a problem and using the tools available to probe and test the problem, designers can become obsessed with the steps of creating a ‘service blueprint’, running ‘card sorting exercises’ or running the (almost mystical) ‘design sprint’ — gasp for effect.
As Dave Trott puts it, “they were so worried about being efficient that they forgot about being effective.”
I often wonder how attitudes might shift if it were their own business. I expect that ‘doing things right’ might quickly give way to ‘doing the right things’.
I have noticed that there are 3 ingredients which support this environment:
- Leaders must trust their people. They must be comfortable pushing large decisions down.
- Teams must be mature. It takes experience and confidence to move away from the safe, structured processes we’re all taught. However, only then can we begin to uncover our true potential. For those who are well versed in the world of ‘agile’, this may remind you of ‘Shu, Ha, Ri’.
- Teams must be able to act autonomously. Decisions need to be made fast. When teams are required to run ideas up the chain, they fail to launch.
It takes a brave, perhaps even visionary, leader to really embody these attitudes, but time and time again this has been the recipe for outstanding outcomes.
Leaders, be brave.
The Recipe for everyone
If you don’t hold a leadership title, you can help introduce this environment by always strive to genuinely understand why you’re working on something. It may take a certain amount of ‘managing up’, and can be an uncomfortable exercise. It is well worth the effort. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with a ‘why’, understanding it will have an enormous impact on how you approach your work, and your ability to solve underlying problems.
Designers, please be pragmatic. Don’t obsess over the fancy design thinking processes. Instead, focus on simply solving the problem. Only by focusing on the problem can you uncover what tools and processes might be useful in solving it — and don’t be afraid of tweaking things when need be.
Understanding the problem is the first step, you then must be pragmatic in how you approach solving it.