Can a Committee Design Software?

In a word, No.

So why dedicate a blog post to the subject?

While committees are renowned for seldom getting much accomplished, there are two other approaches that work.

Individual effort is obvious. A genius, programming maestro or otherwise extremely talented individual can single-handedly create a software design that is a game-changer.

What is less promoted is a team. A team of talented individuals, each with their own strengths, working together can create truly awe-inspiring software.

What is the difference between a committee and a team? The dictionary doesn’t shed a lot of light on the subject:

Committee: “A group of people officially delegated to perform a function, such as investigating, considering, reporting, or acting on a matter.”
Team: “A group organized to work together: a team of engineers.
(American Heritage, 4th Edition)

In real life, what’s the difference between a committee and a team? In my experience, two words: Dedication and Purpose.

We all know about sports teams, where a group of individuals join together to accomplish a goal, and along the way a bunch of sub-goals, such as tactically defining how they’re going to score more points than the other team.

A committee, well, fill in the blanks. We all have opinions on committees. My opinion is that those on a committee are there to represent their individual interests or areas of responsibility, not what’s best for the bigger picture.

Why is a team necessary to create great software? Because today’s software has so many parts that one person can’t do it all. It takes the collective efforts of a team of people, and the combined strengths of those people, to create stunning software.

At the forefront of that lies the Product Manager. The Product Manager’s role is to define and drive the software:

  • Define the vision
  • Get agreement on that vision by all the team members
  • Drive that vision through to completion

There’s no room for a committee in creating software. There is a LOT of room for talent, there is a lot of room for creativity, there is a lot of room for inspiration. Great teams create great software.

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Can Software Developers Design Products?

In a word, my vote is, “No.”

Why do I say this?

My experience has been that developers think differently than typical users. They think in software architecture and bits and bytes, file structures and programming interfaces and logic and sound engineering discipline.

Software users, by and large, don’t care about ANY of that. They care about function, usability, cool UIs, ease of use. They care about computer performance and how long it takes for the software to load and that the program doesn’t crash and lose all of their hard work.

Developers worry about compile time and degree of difficulty of executing certain tasks, meeting release dates and making sure their code is well-structured and that they’ve done cool things.

Yes, developers want to please customers and want their software to sell like crazy.

The point is, they approach software from a different perspective than users. Without the user perspective, they’ll miss.

Let’s compare the car industry. Do engineers style the cars? No, they don’t. If they did, they’d design structurally sound vehicles that were easy to assemble and would probably be rather bland.

Instead, there is a design studio that works on wild and radical designs, and tame that down into cars for the road. Yes, I know that some cars come out looking like abominations. Remember the Gremlin and the Pacer, not to mention the Pontiac Aztec? But there are also incredible cars that look really cool, with swoopy shapes and cool interiors and cars that capture your heart and soul.

Software needs that same passionate approach to the UI. User Interfaces that interact with people, that excite them, make them go, “Cool!” User interfaces that intuitively operate the same way people do–people who aren’t techno geeks that can debug Windows crashes in three minutes or less.

While I think the world of software developers, software needs DESIGNERS. User Experience folks, also known as UX. Artistic flair is a good idea as well. People who put insight and thought and passion and FUN into software.

What they come up with might be difficult to program. C’est la business. Those who will conquer the software world in the future will have UIs that interact with the user, that are cool and fun and leading-edge functionality. Customers don’t care how hard it is to make–and those who make it will succeed.

If you want viral growth with your software, create the UI with users in mind–the users who will actually use your product. Know who your users are, their likes and dislikes and habits and trends. Then create software that fits right into their lifestyle and computing style.

That’s the first point in creating great products, the first pillar of going viral.

(Just for the record, I have many good friends who are developers and I think the world of them. Some have even done a credible job designing UIs. To create great UIs, however, you need a specialist.)