Developers + platforms = experimentation. Many experiments = innovation
This simplification of a talk at SXSW this year reminds us that the role of developers can have a huge impact on the success of businesses. In a talk by Pat Malatack, VP of Product at Twilio, Code is Creative - treat your developers as artists, his message was one that we heard in several other talks this year - do not forget to treat developers as key to the strategy of a business.
The biggest can get it the most wrong
Starting with a striking reminder that once Nokia and its CEO were ‘king’ of the telecoms world, Pat attributes much of the demise of the giant to the fact that they did not give space for developers to create. When Apple and Google joined the race, they did so with platforms on which developers could experiment and launch their new ideas. Their phones and systems for them are built to host these new apps; “you enable your developers, and they will create things that you cannot imagine - Apple and Google don’t need to predict the next Instagram”.
When the Wright brothers were building the aeroplane, the man expected to win this race was Samuel Langford who had grant funding, some of the highest qualifications and knowledge on the topic in the world and was on stage frequently explaining his latest discoveries towards making man fly. During this time the brothers were building, testing and failing to such an extent that they had an agreement for how one would continue if the other one died in a crash - a great example of a team with no fear of failure.
What do your developers need from you?
In order to give developers the space to innovate at Twilio every few months they clear time for developers to work on what they want to, not what is in the Jira list. Usually they have 3-4 days dedicated to experimentation, sometimes even as long as 2 weeks before returning to scheduled work.
This message was shared by New York City’s Head of Open Data, Adrianne Schmoeker and Hadassah Damien from the Participatory Budgeting Project, who have found that by putting data and $1m into the hands of groups from local communities they have created solutions that could not have been imagined in such a form by government officials.
Too often developer teams are not given the view of a business problem but are asked to work on a solution created elsewhere in the team. Malatack, Twilio, recommends ensuring that a developer team is given a regular view of the full picture because they are excellent at seeing alternative ways to achieve a result. Regular sharing of customer feedback is also essential.
And what about your other teams’ involvement in strategy?
However, it's not all about developers, other teams are essential to innovation. Cinna Wu from Facebook in Back-end to the Future: AB Testing What Counts recounts tales of some developer teams having been incentivised to increase sales through user journeys but then having scared off important groups from a business’s community.
Maisy Samuelson, from Pinterest says that the aim to prevent this from happening led to them creating one view of Pinterest for new users and one for long term users - they can give a better experience to their biggest ambassadors and contributors. Their community managers are tasked with gathering feedback of their needs and have the ability to deliver on these with new features, whilst keeping the view for newest members more simple.
Things for you to do from tomorrow...
So, it is not just for the strategy or another designated team to create solutions and influence future products - all teams should be encouraged to contribute to development of a product and a company.
All teams should have access to customer feedback and the overall problem in order to come up with the best solutions - so how can you enable this? And space to experiment is required for the best ‘out-of -the-box’ innovations - who do you need to speak to, to make this happen?
If your team struggles to enable this kind of work, then start by thinking of KPIs that will not bind the creative process but will prove progress.