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July 15, 2014

Worldcup and Product Design

What we can learn from the worldcup for product design

soccer_teamplay

My fascination for soccer as a naive

I don’t know that much about soccer, the details, the tactics and the players – but I enjoy watching the game. Mostly the big ones as this is a whole experience: people are coming together to watch the game, the media is talking about it, it’s a big event. And of course, at the World Cup or the UEFA EURO I am cheering for my home country, Germany.

I remember the time when I got fascinated about watching the World Cup games (back in the days when I was a teenager :)): I was really impressed by the Brazilian team and their way of playing soccer. To me they were the “ballet dancers” of soccer. The players did the most magical tricks with the ball, it was beautiful to watch. To me they acted like artists. I enjoyed watching the Brazilian games much more than the German ones.

 

Individual artists vs teamplayers

In the beginning of my work career I had a similar fascination for graphical designers. I got my degree in psychology and learned about the scientific approach to see the world. But I always wanted to create something – and I admired every designer for having the creative skillset. And design is still my passion.

But with time I learned something else: even though I value the aesthetics and design of a product a lot I also know it’s not all about the look & feel. A good product is the result of good teamwork.

And that’s what I saw in soccer as well: the German team changed more and more from a group with individual superstars to a real TEAM. And by now I am fascinated about their teamwork. It’s great to watch a group of people playing together, to feel the team spirit and to see the “united power”.

 

Teamwork in product design

This is to me one of the key aspects in product or service design: acting as a (project) team and not as individuals.

In my industry the development process is often a Chinese whispers game: deliverables are being passed on from one department to another. User researchers hand off their results to information architects who send their wireframes to the designer who provides the design files to the developer. And everybody feels ownership of their deliverables. They take a deliverable and try to turn into something that they can be proud of. In this game of individuals it is hard to focus on the bigger picture, the final result, the product.

New forms of project management like the agile development process try to help and change the way of working together with each other. And I agree with the basic ideas of the agile vision.

 

Teamwork as a mindset, not a process

But I don’t think it’s all about the process. To me it is about the mindset. It’s like in soccer: we don’t need to change any rules or tell the players how to act. But we need to create a common vision, a collective action. And that starts at the very beginning of a product development process:

  • Share the project vision with all of the project team members at the beginning of the project
  • Make sure that everybody understand their role, their tasks and the dependencies in the project team
  • Keep all project team members in the loop with short weekly status meetings (wether they are already working on the project or waiting for deliverables)
  • Share progress updates to communicate the way towards the final result

My personal vision of a great work environment is a culture that knows how to play a game together, that embraces personal superstars but knows how to integrate them in a coordinated team.