Expose decisions to redistribute power.
The "why" behind design-bias product decisions.
May 17, 2020
Building a software product can be broken down into core decisions. These may vary for the teams you work with. Likely, they should. Frameworks like this are intended to flex to the context of your organization. Regardless, this is a set of design-bias product decisions that I've found work best for the teams I work with.
Core decisions of a software product
- Business goals
- User goals
- Presentation (features)
There is much to be said about this particular set of decisions as a strategy and practice, but I find it most important to first articulate the why. Why does this exist, and why does it need to be articulated?
The primary motivation behind this framework is the redistribution of power within teams and organizations.
Teams that create products do better when all team members feel they have appropriate responsibilities that match both their desire and skill level. Said again more succinctly, teams do better when power is equalized.
Unfortunatley, and especially within larger enterprise organizations, there is often a large gap between responsiblities and the human potential of team members. These gaps are often found in tandem with those that have too much responsibility and too much power. Thus, inequality pervades, and organizations see retention of talent fall.
I've lamented to others on such inequalities before. If a team or organization can be thought of as three lenses of a Venn diagram - one lens for each of business, design, and technology - it is often the design lens that lacks realized responsibilities. It is the design lens that never realizes the human potential of those employees. It is the design lens that lacks power.
To expose this framework is to introduce a new, shared language to your team (and organization) that informs how you can more equitably make product decisions in a way that does not undermine the aspirations or motivations of the team.
To expose this framework is to expose these inequalities of power.
Inequality of power within software product creation is real. I experience a little. I see and hear others live it much more, and it is infuriating.
What does power inequality look like?
- It looks like bringing objective evidence and facts to a team and having these facts be reacted to as a personal attack.
- It looks like bringing your strengths and expertise to the situation, only to have it be disregarded because of fear.
- It looks like being openly hopeful for a better future to those who should support you, but to have them deflect and disregard.
- It looks like being attacked for doing what you know to be right.
- It looks like experimentation and learning being treated worse than complacency.
All of this is cultural in nature. It is also heavily steeped in prejudice and privilege.
How are we to serve others, to prioritize the most vulnerable, and to ensure software products are forces of good, when we cannot bring equality to our own teams?
This is the reason and need for a more nuanced, design-bias framework of product decisions. Intentional, ethical, and just design can be the fundamental shift in power and policy within the technology industry.
From here, and for now, I leave you with these four questions to begin the process of instigating change:
- What are our team's core decisions?
- Who is currently responsible for what decisions?
- What is unfair and to whom?
- What steps do we take, together, from here?
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