Chasing Simplicity

Giff Constable product management

In product, we swim in complexity, which is why it’s essential to seek simplicity wherever we can. If we accept or even indulge in complexity, I’m convinced it will show up in your product in unintended ways (not unlike Conway’s Law).

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to chase simplicity:

Your strategy: have you boiled your company (and/or team) strategy down to 5 or fewer key decision making principles that make it easier for everyone to know when to say yes, when to say no, and why? If this work is done at the top, everything else becomes easier.

Your metrics: have you narrowed down to just a handful of most-important metrics to track? Have you made sure that everyone knows why these particular ones and how to follow along?

Your processes: have you sought to cut out unnecessary formality (and dogma) and process steps in order to foster human interactions, common sense, and minimum viable documentation? Have you sought a more continuous flow?

Your language: have you sought to reduce the amount of jargon you speak, whether about tech or your industry, and instead opted for plain, practical language? Your jargon and acronyms might sound smart, and can certainly be fun and even efficient, but it’s an indulgence that hurts, not helps you, especially when dealing with people outside of the prod-eng inner team.

Your communication: have you thought about simpler but still effective ways to reach “shared understanding” with your colleagues about what you are working on and why?

Your tools: have you sought tools that minimize complexity rather than expand it? This can come in multiple forms: more focused tools that do one thing right vs a bigger tool that combines multiple silos into one… there’s no one answer.

Have you challenged which tools and methods must be digital? Shake things up and get tactile. Remote teams can still use sharpies and paper, index cards, sticky notes. We’ve all got video and phone cameras, so it’s not hard to bring it all together. When we spend too much time in digital tools, we can start to accept or even create complexity (JIRA is often public enemy #1 here, but it’s not alone). Tactile things can free our minds and help us better spot the clutter.

While I’m at it, go do a remote walking meeting. Get everyone moving instead of trapped at a camera. Someone will have to stay behind and take notes, but see if shaking things up can improve your team flow, energy and creativity.

You get the picture. Take a 360 degree look at your activities. How can you “minimum viable everything” to get more practical, more streamlined, more focused on the essence of things?

Remember, our job in product is to absorb the complexity of human needs and behaviors, markets and competition, societal and environmental trends, and our business goals, and translate all of that into simple, delightful, valuable product experiences. Leave the complexity for what you have the synthesize and absorb, and seek simplicity in how you do it and what you build.

Don’t overdo it and go too far. Find the right amount of simplicity. Minimum viable everything, remember? You might need to experiment to find that balance, but the effort will be worth it, your load will feel lighter, and your colleagues and customers will appreciate it.

Top image by Amy Humphries on Unsplash