Why Balanced Teams work better together

Let us take a cue from Xtreme Programming, share more knowledge and share more ownership with less role definition.

What is Balanced Team?

Balanced Team is a global movement of people who value multi-disciplinary collaboration and iterative delivery focused on customer value as a source for innovation.

Why Balanced Team? This is a story about building better team relationships while shipping great software.

You know that awkward, schmushy place where our roles and responsibilities kind of, sort of overlap? And clash? When we think about that shared space where our roles overlap and we think about that icky feeling of stepping on someone’s toes, we think conflict, ugh. We thread carefully…

But what are we so afraid of? Why do we start from a place of protection and perfection?

I braved that place of awkwardness (as a designer), venturing into the wild of Coffee Script and SASS mixins, pairing with developers to find a shared language, translating wireframes into beautiful front-end together. I found it empowering. I followed PMs into stakeholder checkins trying to find a shared understanding of the tensions between business. I relinquished my post as “expert” and soldier of user needs in favor of more cross-functional collaboration. What I found? Curiosity and willingness to be uncomfortable is where we find agreement.

Because that awkward, gray, schmushy place is also where creative ideas get real and get delivered and that, that is magic! No unicorns required.

Before, circa 2000

Let us take a walk down memory lane… Once upon a time, when we had waterfall, cubicles and 800-page requirements docs, we also had clear role definition…

Waterfall

A Product Manager would go out into the wild, on a solo expedition like a hunter in the woods, and come back with tons and tons of requirements from impatient, excited customers. The PM would then meticulously document those requirements, hand them to a designer and say “go forth and conquer”.

A Designer would go off into a cave, sit in a Herman Miller chair, listen to Massive Attack and spend a lot of time in Photoshop coming up with the most awesome experience for said requirements. Then meticulously document it with all the red lines and precision. And tears.

Then Developers would take the meticulous designs and requirements and write beautifully constructed, tested code like building engineers and then…

6 months later when software released…

User feedback after a waterfall release

In recent times… circa 2012

That was challenging and we quickly learned, with changing demands we must adapt quickly. Developers had adopted agile for some time now, quickly adapting to change, sharing knowledge and sharing ownership of the codebase… but designers and PMs were still in a silo, racing to keep up.

Water-scrum-fall

Developers had the right idea, because sharing knowledge leads to courage, empowerment and better outcomes! Let us take a queue from Xtreme Programming…

Because Balanced Team is just an extension of Xtreme practices, leveraging the same core values and tenets: more collaboration, shared knowledge and shared ownership.

So let us all, designers, developers and PMs, specialize less and share more knowledge of subject matter, empathy for users and technical constraints.

Don’t go chasing waterfalls

A new era!

Let us share responsibility for delivering user value and share our knowledge. A feature is not done when it’s delivered or deployed or pushed to production, it’s done when someone gets a job done using said feature. So if you’re making a payment app, getting paid quickly and efficiently is everyone’s thing. And designers know that it’s those overlaps, the connective tissue that makes or breaks the experience. Developers are driving toward getting more code in front the eyes of users.

Everyone should be able to call out “that’s a weird interaction…” Everybody understands the business value, the user value and the importance. Ergo no more fighting over how subtly flat the submit button should be.

It’s a crazy world we’re designing and building for… we’ve got car-sharing services delivering kittens and christmas trees, we’ve got drones delivering Kleenex and we’ve got diabetes meters on our phones! Hiding in your cave of expertise doing expert stuff is not gonna cut it. Focusing on the connective tissue between disciplines makes products holistic.

Who’s job is the user experience of a drone landing your doorstep anyway?!?

So next time you’re doing something very designy, or very businessy or very techy, I challenge you to invite someone who isn’t. Someone to keep you honest, someone to keep you sane, someone to be your thought partner from a different world of expertise.

Want to build awesome products and brilliant teams? Join me at Pivotal Labs.