Culture, People, and Partnerships

Why the human element matters more in the world of digital.

We spend the vast majority of our lives working for a living. What we do to provide for our families, and ourselves, takes up an overwhelming part of our lives. Monetary compensation aside, company culture has become one of the most important elements to attracting and retaining key talent, and in the digital product design and development space this fact is even more salient. With the collaboration and interaction required to create digital experiences at scale, team-based project structures are the norm, and more often than not, are made of people from very different disciplines and backgrounds.

From an internal perspective, a large-scale digital initiative brings together stakeholders from strategy, research, UX, design, development, marketing, manufacturing, operations, industrial design, and executive decision makers, to name a few. Once one applies the traditional agency/client partner model, the complexity of the relationship matrix takes on an entire new dynamic as personalities, personas, and company cultures come together in the spirit of a lean start up.

When you combine the incredible mash up of human assets, with a laser focus on human centered design, suddenly the tech is just the means to an end. The final product is the conduit for ideation synergy, and the smoother the strategy, design, and development phase, the greater likelihood your product will own your competition. To do this you can have dozens of brilliant minds working together for the same final outcome, but if there are foundational cultural differences that get in the way the output is inherently impeded.

In the world of advanced application and software design and development, projects typically run six to twenty-four months…sometimes longer. Using a familiar dating metaphor, it’s not like a coffee date – you’re going to be meeting the family and likely have to endure a European vacation together. The very nature of these complex projects, with their long product cycles, representation from multiple disciplines, and often several technical unknowns, further raises the importance of cultural fit. It’s not about companies trying to map to each other’s goals – it delves into the human factor – the values, the personalities, the professionalism, and the love of changing the game is ultimately the winning formula for market success. Bonus for making great friends in the process.

But, you can’t force alignment. We get that. Sometimes there simply isn’t a cultural fit. But more often than not, even with the most adverse of cultural clashes, there are ways to go about creating alignment, such as:

  • Kick-off your multi-disciplinary project with an hour of improv brainstorming. What better way to break down barriers than a laugh-a-thon of exercises that bring out personalities in a light-hearted series of activities.
  • Get out of the office. Team bonding accelerates over a shared experience, and often seeing your collective team partake in an activity or outing outside of work constraints allows people to connect on a personal level.
  • Take it to the whiteboard. Be it experience mapping or basic project ideation, having a collective space where all ideas are equal and valid is a jumping off point for each project discipline. We’ve even been known to do a whiteboarding exercise where we experience map the creation of the Empire’s new Death Star – if you can’t get a highly intelligent, yet introverted, developer to geek out on this, nothing will.

So yes, it is a lot like dating, after all. When you genuinely like and respect the people you work with, bumps in the road become, well…less bumpy. The mutual admiration and respect opens up honest and effective communication channels. Problems become challenges, barriers give way to simple inconveniences, and in the end, the product benefits from the coming together of two cultures, many great minds, and one undefeatable team.

Partner for cultural fit first. Your project and your people will thank you for it.

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