Learning from Apple
With some of the best technology products on the market developed in total secrecy, how does Apple manage their project development process?
To Mac geeks the process behind developing a new product is something akin to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Amazing things happen behind the closed doors of Cupertino. Until recently the process of exactly how Apple go from an idea to an iPhone has been a mystery. Now, with the launch of a new book written by an ex-Apple executive, the veil has been lifted and we’ve all been given a little peak inside.
The first thing that has to be said of Apple’s process is that it is expensive. Fantastically, horribly expensive. Apple doesn’t iterate prototypes like any other company might; Apple builds final versions of products, learns from them and then throws them away. That’s an option only open to you when you have $98b in the bank.
Beyond that though, the process is eminently sensible. The process is weighted to design up-front, because design is Apple’s unique selling point. People buy Apple products for the work they’ve put into their industrial design. For a different company it would make sense to load the effort into some other aspect that the customer comes to you for. At Usable, we put the effort into usability. That’s what our customers want.
The process at Apple is very, very fast, especially for such a big company. The iteration cycle used is between one and two weeks. At Usable we use two week iterations, but we’re a young and energetic start-up. We have two employees; Apple has more than 60,000. What’s most amazing is that Apple have managed to create a start-up like environment within their corporate environment. They’ve removed the barriers and bureaucracy that prevent other companies doing such amazing things. Usable seeks to emulate that, with the obvious advantage that we are a start-up. We love the rapid development process and actually enjoy the challenge of managing the changes that arise from going so fast – it’s something Usable Requirements is solving.
The final thing to learn from Apple is that, at every single stage of the process of developing a new product, there is a single responsible individual. Apple does not build products with committees of people arguing over the minutia. One persons word is law. Ultimately that was Steve Jobs, famous for his attention to detail and somewhat obsessive nature about making the best possible product. That is a vitally important facet of project development – if no one takes responsibility for something then it won’t get done properly, or even done at all. Again, Usable knows this. We have clear boundaries that set out who is accountable for each aspect of our products, and in Usable Requirements the workflow of sign off is very well signposted. When you use our app you can tell immediately who is responsible for what.
It’s interesting, exciting, and hugely encouraging to know that we’re using the same sort of processes to develop our software as Apple use to build the products that we use every day. We’re looking forward to bring these tools to you.