As an engineer, I really enjoy this part of my job. Creating and implementing systems is at its core an engineering function. You have to understand the tools and materials available to you and design a machine that does its job both efficiently and effectively. The simpler the system, the easier it is to understand and maintain.
When you are taking a new product from research and development to market you will experience the full systems development cycle. I have broken this cycle into what I believe are six steps. Many product managers are tempted to stall out on step four, while many others will likely never make it past step two.
Step 1: Surviving
Somebody in the company had a great idea for this great product and you are the lucky person who gets to champion it! The only problem is that you only have a basic knowledge of the product and know even less about management, sales, marketing, and team building. Welcome to my world in 2013. What did I do? I did everything I could to survive. I enrolled in a local MBA program to learn about leadership, developed relationships with key people in and out of the organization, and I continuously relied on the team I was leading.
One day you walk into work and you think to yourself, “This thing is actually working!” You have officially completed step two. You and the team have developed some way (you’re not exactly sure which) to survive. The only problem is that every time you need to hire someone to grow the department, you can’t tell them exactly how to do their job because you have yet to define it.
Steps 3 & 4: Capturing the tribal knowledge
This is the work that no one on the team wants to take on. Why? Because it takes a lot of time to develop the work flows, policies, and training programs. Lucky for the team, your business card says manager on it. Time to roll up the sleeves and get to work. But keep in mind that involving your team in this process will go a long way in developing their engagement.
Step 5 (Loop 1): Can we simplify?
This is a question you should never stop asking yourself throughout this entire process. In fact, you should work to simplify everything you design. This is not about taking short cuts, or doing things sloppy. It is about working smarter, not harder. It’s about eliminating waste and doing things efficiently. It’s about doing things right and creating the systems that will support your team.
Step 6 (Loop 2): Automating your systems.
You have arrived at the end of the systems development cycle and it is time to automate the entire process you have just developed. Call in the software development team, have a couple of meetings, and book those tickets to Hawaii!
Not so fast.
There is no end to the systems development cycle. Only continually improving the processes. If you have gone around Loop 1 enough times, then feel free to get the IT guys involved. Just remember that Loop 1 is drastically easier to operate within compared to Loop 2. And understand that if you move on to Step 6 to soon, you might be cementing a bad system in place. Cement can be tough to remove, but don’t be afraid of doing just that if you find more improvements that can be implemented.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!