For us, efficiency encompasses delivering lean projects ahead of schedule with a high standard of quality. One of the ways we maximize efficiency is through the tight integration of our product and design teams with our technology team.
A simplified model of the standard approach in industry are three separate, independent teams. Each team passes on the requirements and objectives to the next, without any substantive feedback and iteration.
This kind of organizational structure has many shortcomings, but the most unfortunate one is a disenfranchised technology team. The linear structure often creates a power dynamic where:
The product team is at the top, dictating requirements and objectives.
The design team is in the middle, making decisions about information architecture, flows and user experience.
The technology team is at the bottom, implementing the specifications.
The result of not participating in product and design decisions is low team morale, technical feasibility concerns for the current development cycle, and lack of context for future development cycles.
At Blackcreek we decided to try another approach — a technology team that is tightly integrated with the product and design teams throughout the entire project lifecycle. We began our ambitious mission by first focusing on integrating the design team, directly adjacent to the technology team in the traditional linear structure.
One of the major problems we identified at Blackcreek early on was the potential for specifications that were handed off to developers to contain design decisions that resulted in increased technical complexity.
While our designers were optimizing the experience for the user, they didn’t have the computer science background necessary to evaluate the technical feasibility. The timeline and cost of the technical deliverables increased, even though it was preventable.
With the goal of efficiency in mind, we made the decision to integrate our design and technology teams. Our designers now walk through the mock-ups and prototypes with our developers, identifying technical constraints and generating alternative solutions as a team. The end result are design specifications that are just as powerful from a user perspective — but also minimize the technical complexity, cost and timeline.
With our success of integrating the design team, we now focused on the next area in which we saw the potential for improvement — integrating the product team. Requirements, objectives, and priorities change rapidly under the combination of a lean product strategy and agile project management methodology.
The issue with a traditional linear structure is the lack of information transparency about the product roadmap, stakeholder concerns, opportunities, risks, and more. As a result the technology team usually does not have a broader context when developing features and therefore cannot anticipate and proactively prepare for future requirements and objectives.
The best case scenario is lowered efficiency as developers have to go back and rewrite code and rethink architecture decisions.
The worst case scenario is the inability for the developers to keep up at all —agile project methodology and lean product strategy doesn’t mean much when the codebase is lethargic and bloated.
Instead, we integrated our product and technology team. Our product team shares the 3, 6 and 12-month product roadmaps; highlights key risks and opportunities that may impact feature priority; and receives feedback about the technical impact that certain product decisions may have. In turn our technology team instills confidence in the product team by developing with an agile mindset, aware of the broader context and making better technical decisions by evaluating factors that go beyond the code.
We often see great products hindered as a result of information silos, divergent team culture, and political power dynamics.
By tightly integrating our technology team with product and design throughout the entire project lifecycle, we have boosted team morale, increased organizational transparency, and maximized our efficiency.