There was once a product…

If you are starting a business you know that DESIGN should be a priority for you. A good User Experience Design (UX) is important for you to deliver seamless value propositions for your customers. Good  User Interaction Design (UI) can also help your product to go beyond aesthetics and function as intended. By implementing Strategic Design (SD) we can also portray innovative solutions and future roadmaps for our organizations to follow. Design is the contact surface between your organization, the future and your market (or more design centered, USERS). As a result, when we start businesses with our users in mind, we build relevant value propositions that resemble a future promise embodied in coherent products.

firmvsproduct
The Firm and the Product are traditionally thought to work together as two separated entities.

But who are the users of the product? Research in Product Architecture suggests that the products we make also have users inside our organizations. As a result, they also shape the way the organizations are built through time. Researchers Lyra Colfer and Carliss Baldwin describe that the way we solve problems through the design of product components shapes the relationships between the people who are involved in its creation. In their research, they also describe how this configuration does not only shape the configuration of a company but can also extend to partners and industries. Their observations coincide with research that has been widely validated since the 90’s demonstrating that the way we design our products has a huge impact in the performance of our businesses. Therefore, when we design our product we are actually designing the future of our businesses too.

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The mirroring process between products and services by Colfer & Baldwin (2017)

But how does this happen? Colfer & Baldwin call this the mirroring process. They describe a process using a technical dependency matrix and an organizational ties matrix. We are going to describe the model in 4 main steps:

  1. Product design – When we design products we deal with complex problem solving. To deal with them more efficiently, we split the problem in little parts that we can solve individually. This little parts are the product components. Components can be related to the solution of one or more functions which relates them to other components. The researchers use an example with a product that has 3 components, A, B, and C. In the technical dependency matrix you can see that some components are interrelated as shown by the dashed boxes. A and B work together just like B & C.
  2. The projection of activities – Arranging the product in components means that the person or team in charge of developing component A (Sam) will negotiate its definition with component B (Anna). At the same time, Component B (Anna) will have communication with both A and C (Sam & Pete). While C (Pete will only negotiate with b (Anna).  As a consequence, when de business grows, the existing relationships will grow as well. The performance of the product will be evaluated according to the values that these teams negotiate. At the same time Sam and Pete will not develop channels and tools to collaborate.
  3. The projection of products – The developed team has created something that Clayton Christensen calls “the value network“. This is an underlying structure that describes what the product “is” and how it “should perform”. Through this value network, the organization designs products that are aligned to the possibilities of the organization, ideas, and performance that were shaped by the very first product configuration. This value network extends to all the business supliers and partners since they all interact with a part of the product.
  4. The mirroring trap – When the surrounding environment changes and the organization is forced to innovate, the teams are constrained by the first product configuration that shaped them in the first place. Colfer & Baldwin call this “the mirroring trap” and is one of the explanations for the death of businesses whose markets are being disrupted.
firmproduct-merge.jpg
We can say that product and firm are closely related as two parts of one object rather than two entities themselves.

As we can see, through the design of our first value proposition (product or service) we are actually creating a roadmap for our business to follow. If we look around we can see this mirroring process everywhere. Mobile phones all look just like iPhones because its design has shaped not only its organization but the industry itself. Consoles look like PlayStations and Electric Cars look like Priuses. The problem is that we are all trained to force the same business template to all businesses just like all startups have the C – level executives. Considering this, we should start questioning if the way we start our businesses separated from product design is right. Can we create a unified process that considers the mirroring process from the beginning? Because as the title of this post says, there was once a product… that shaped an entire industry. 

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