There’s a valid reason why nearly all renowned authors in the realm of product development don’t advocate for process models. Experts like Mary Poppendieck, Martin Cagan, Melissa Perri, Teresa Torres, and Steve Blank give us mainly principles instead. This is because processes tend to be applied too dogmatically, especially where there’s more expertise in process than in the subject matter. Teams risk losing sight of what’s essential. In the worst case, there’s a belief that a good process alone must lead to positive outcomes, thereby replacing the thoughtful consideration of what’s truly necessary for success.
Why principles are better for guidance than processes:
- Principles work with guidelines that we believe in and feel accountable for. They can imbue us with a sense of purpose and direction in our actions, making them more motivating. Processes, on the other hand, are often viewed as a boring obligation.
- Principles are more adaptable than processes and can be tailored to various situations and respond better to changes. They do not replace thinking. Therefore, if at all, it’s more advisable to copy the principles of successful companies than their processes.
- Principles lead to better outcomes as they are based on our values and beliefs. When we make decisions based on principles, we’re more likely to make the right ones. This isn’t necessarily true for processes.
Examples of how principles can be applied in product development
- Focus on solving real problems, not on roles, processes, and tasks. Everyone in the team should feel responsible for collectively identifying real problems and solving them for their customers (in a way that makes the company sucessfull). Success should be defined by actual results, not by the efforts made.
- Distribute responsibilities clearly and sensibly, not forced into specific roles.
- Recognize inefficiencies and resolve them together, irrespective of certain processes (e.g. by achieving continuous delivery or quick decision cycles).
- Make decisions based on evidence, not assumptions, and with common goals in mind. Collect necessary data and information support decision making.
- Support product decisions by a clear vision and strategy. Add derived product principles, which support a shared understanding of how to achieve the vision.
Of course, this doesn’t make processes irrelevant. They can help us work more efficiently and effectively, particularly when many teams are collaborating towards a common goal. However, processes should never become dogmatic and thus more important than principles. If you can no longer plausibly explain why a particular process exists, you’re probably already on this path.