I’ve spent many years both working with and using, a combination of native and web apps. When you’re working for a mid-sized company or larger, many times it’s far more difficult to get things done at the speed and quality you really want. It seems like the larger the company, the worse off the product is. This isn’t to say many larger companies like Facebook and Google, don’t have talented employees — quite the opposite actually. It’s just that more layers of management complicates things, and tends to thus impede process.
It goes without saying that innovation, design and execution are paramount to the success of a given product. One of the reasons I believe iOS as a platform has so many great apps, is because many of these development teams building these successful apps start off as one to five person teams. With small teams, there is less “design by committee” and more of let’s just find a great idea — execute it and iterate it until we find the sweet spot.
I don’t think it’s impossible for larger companies to push boundaries, trust their gut instincts and move forward, but it’s exponentially harder as the head count increases. I know this first hand from experience working with larger companies. There are several areas where many larger companies go wrong in, and I’ll attempt to outline and further elucidate on these points.
Design by committee
I haven’t seen this work… Ever. At least, not in a way that is ideal and produces the absolute best results for a project. When you get a large group of people in the room — without having someone call the shots — what you get is a melting pot of ideas. Some of those ideas will be good, and many of them will be shit. These many individual ideas will be voted on, and eventually once decided on, there will be someone who has to figure out the ROI (Return On Investment) on whether or not they should be implemented.
When I use the term ROI, I don’t take it lightly. I mean it by how it’s defined — that someone will actually heavily weigh the pros and cons of every feature and try to package it all up nicely in a spreadsheet in order to determine if there’s too great a risk to implement something.
This is where it gets dangerous and where I believe many large companies go wrong. This doesn’t have to be specific to just iOS app development, but it could apply to any product or service that has to be designed and engineered. While it’s certainly important to understand what you’re trying to accomplish, and ultimately set out to build — you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you think crunching numbers to play it safe is the best way to determine how the product is built.
When you build a product, you’re ultimately taking some sort of calculated risk that it will be somewhat successful. You may not know for sure how well it will do, and there’s no way to know if it will become a runaway hit — which is pretty rare in itself. Being in business is always a risk, whether you’re a one to five person show, or have hundred or more employees. Larger companies need — and should — take larger risks. They can’t lose sight of the big picture. If they do and let ROI guidelines dictate how the product is built, then I believe the level of success will be diminished greatly.
Iteration is important, and less is always more
Iteration is incredibly important with any product, but it’s also better to be incredibly selective in the beginning. In almost every case, less is far more. This seems like a simple, and perhaps mundane idea, but why do you think so many companies fail to build good products? Throwing all the features you think your product should have — many of which may be half baked — in the 1.0 release is just bad news.
Talent and great ideas are not all that you need
I’m sure there are many who have either — or are currently — working for mid to large sized companies, where this problem is at the very core of what they do on a day-to-day basis. This is always incredibly frustrating. Especially when you start to get a glimpse and witness what was once a great idea — being built into a shitty product that you wan’t no part of.
It’s one thing to have top-notch talented individuals, but that’s simply not enough when the core problem you may have starts at the top with management, as well as the general culture the company has cultivated from the beginning.
I sincerely wish that more larger companies would be introspective. It’s imperative that they look at how teams operate. They must be able to cut the fat if need be, but also make single people accountable for big decisions. Also, let people take larger risks. Trust that you have a great team, and that their talent and gut-instinct will be able to help push things forward in a swift manner.
When you hold meetings with teams, decisions should be make quickly if a good idea presents itself. We loop right back again to making sure there is a single person accountable for executing the vision. This can’t be upper management: i.e., executive management. In so many cases I’ve seen executive management put the kibosh on decisions a project manager makes, because some numbers guy figured it’s far too risky to execute based on projected future income. When your concern constantly hovers around dollars and cents in the long run, you’re doing it wrong. Just look at how other great companies like Apple operate. While they haven’t had a completely untarnished history, they largely have been able to put out hit product after product, after product. Now obviously Steve Jobs was an undeniably unique person.
What other people can learn from Apple’s past mistakes — in the mid 80s and early 90s — is that you need to remember that you first should be making products that you would want to use yourself — perhaps even desire. The moment you deviate from this path, you only end up hurting yourself.
No one is going to argue with you that money is not important — of course it is, and it would be irresponsible to think otherwise. Businesses can’t be built without income to pay employees, so that they can in-turn build better products to supersede those that came before. All too often, the mistake companies make is that by focusing on how much they could potentially make with a product, they easily lose focus on what matters most — building the best damn product you can in the first place.
The money will come simply based on the fact that you did build the best damn thing possible. Maybe it won’t be a runaway success at first — in fact maybe it won’t even make you that much money — but that means you have the processes in place to make sure you can go back to the drawing board and do better next time.