Don’t shy away from disagreement during the design phase of product development. Learn how healthy tension leads to greater innovation and market success.
When healthy tension and lively debate are missing from the concept phase of product development, it could be a sign that your team isn’t pushing hard enough to come up with new, creative, out-of-the-box ideas.
After all, during concept generation your team should consider every angle of the problem, come up with as many potential solutions as possible, and argue the merits of each idea. And if you reach a consensus too soon, you risk settling for a lackluster, uninspired design that fails to deliver the market impact you’re looking for.
That’s not to say unbridled tension is good for the product development process. In fact, too much of the wrong kind of conflict can derail your project timeline, contribute to poor team dynamics and low morale, and also keep you from achieving your objectives.
Here’s how to distinguish between that productive and unproductive tension— and cultivate a team dynamic that leads to better solutions.
There are healthy and unhealthy types of tension. So, the first thing to do is identify where unhelpful conflict is likely to come from. Conflicts can arise between:
But it’s also important to understand one more kind of conflict you might experience — tension between you and your third-party product development firm.
When you engage the expertise of a third-party product development firm to design and develop your next product, you might think the process will be smooth sailing. You come to the table with a product idea you love; they design and execute it. Easy, right?
Your product development team is intrinsically motivated to swing for the fences with your product’s design. They want to help you launch a highly successful product and earn your ongoing trust and partnership. As a result, they’ll naturally push the boundaries of any concept you bring for consideration.
You might experience pushback from your product development partner if you or members of your team are:
These tensions can happen even if you have a high-trust relationship with your product development firm.
When we worked with a longtime client to create a “2.0” version of a successful product, we presented two concepts for them to consider. One looked and felt a lot like their existing device, with minimal changes to the form and function. The other concept was a bit outside of their comfort zone. It looked markedly different and used an entirely new form factor.
The client initially preferred the design that was a subtle iteration of the original. In fact, many of the clients’ internal stakeholders were really uncomfortable with moving in an unfamiliar direction. We saw, however, how much potential this new form factor possessed and continued to advocate for it.
We went back and forth with this client for a long time trying to come to some sort of conclsion and ultimately, the results of our user testing and research demonstrated that users overwhelmingly preferred the brand-new design. And by choosing that path, this client launched an even more lucrative product than the original.
So what’s the lesson for you?
In this case, we ultimately achieved a superior result not despite, but because of the tension between our client’s viewpoint and our own. We weren’t afraid to push them in a new direction and they weren’t afraid to push back. If we had accepted their position, we would’ve launched an inferior product. And if they just accepted our idea right off the bat, their team would have always been left wondering if the path they chose was truly the best.
When you engage an expert partner to design and develop your product, you’re doing so for a reason. Don’t shy away from the tension that comes when they try to push beyond your product’s current boundaries. Welcome it as a crucial part of arriving at a truly memorable solution.
So whether you’re developing a product in-house or leaning on the expertise of a product development firm, how can you use tension to your product’s ultimate advantage?
There are three strategies to turn unhelpful conflict into give-and-take negotiations that lead to success.
Product development isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about arriving at the best possible answer to the business problems you’re trying to solve.
To that end, the concept phase must be a safe space for all members of the product development team to share ideas and listen to one another. It shouldn’t matter how crazy, off-the-wall, or downright impossible concepts are. This is the time to throw every possibility at the problem to see what sticks.
But what happens when egos play an outsized role in the process? And how should you proceed when debates feel personal and hit the wrong nerve?
Think back to the common causes for conflict in product development. If your CEO or other executives use their position to exert influence over your product’s direction, there are three ways to handle it.
Furthermore, various internal stakeholders will understandably approach your product’s development through the lens of their own goals and experience. Their personal feelings might get the best of them, too. Designers might want to push the envelope and create a bold new look for your product that incorporates the latest design trends. However, engineers might push back due to concerns about cost or manufacturability.
As much as possible, remove emotion from the equation and keep your team focused on reaching your shared goals. Often, the best way to do this is to look at two sets of objective criteria: your success drivers and the results of voice of the customer (VOC) research.
If emotions run high and tension starts reaching a fever pitch, there’s a tried-and-true way to reach alignment. Take subjectivity out of the equation and point the team to previously established, objective criteria for making decisions.
Specifically refer everyone to:
Success drivers can be combined with decision matrices and ranking/scoring methodologies to create a visual, data-driven approach to resolving stakeholder conflict.
Sometimes even after arbitrating interpersonal disagreements and reviewing objective criteria, there are still multiple legitimate paths forward for your product. When this is the case, it can be helpful to develop and test two or more options to see which concept emerges as the superior one.
True, it will likely be cost-prohibitive to develop working prototypes for more than one concept. But you can often get the answers you need by pursuing ideas enough to make more fully informed decisions about them.
This might look like:
Product development is a high stakes game, and every concept is merely a hypothesis until it’s tested and proven. Sometimes you and your internal stakeholders simply need more time before you’re ready to make a decision that will affect your product’s future direction. Considering more than one concept for as long as is feasible gives you the leeway and latitude you need to arrive at the best possible decision.
Most people don’t like tension in the workplace — and many seek to avoid conflict at all cost. But if you’re on a mission to develop an innovative and successful new product, healthy tension is a vital part of reaching your goals.
So don’t shy away from the conflicts and debates that lead to better concepts. Welcome the pushback and insights your product development team and internal stakeholders offer. Align around your overarching success drivers and user needs. And don’t rule any ideas out until you’re absolutely certain you’ve landed on the best possible solution.
And if you’re ready to experience the creative thinking and relentless innovation a product development firm like M3 brings to the table? Let’s chat.