BA (13/52): Content vs Process
I had planned to talk about a specific topic around the importance of philosophical studies on your quest to become a better TPM, Engineering, collaborator but something caught my attention that I wanted to address instead.
This interview is indeed an MBA on creativity, strategy, and shipping monumental technological shifts. I recommend everyone who has time to watch this. There are countless timeless lessons to take away from this interview.
However, whenever I see this interview floating around the internet the theme of anti-process commentary is fascinating. I wrote a twitter thread on this about few days back. I wanted to share some more thoughts on the comment Steve made around content v. process while keeping in context my own time at Apple.
Content and Process - The Reality
If you listen to Steve, Apple sounds like nirvana where the process people have been banished. Creatives & engineers run the garden. The walled garden is a utopia where monumental ideas just flow like water because there is no process junky stopping the way.
When I joined Apple in 2012 the process was more strict than Blackberry & Blackberry loved flaunting it’s ISO 9xxx cert standing.
The difference was that the process at Apple was designed to channel the content creation energy, while Blackberry was process with the absence of content. Precisely what Steve is talking about.
Lengthy project plans, PRDs, SW requirements with precise marketing speak built on market research with catering to carriers and everyone except the user - that’s how Blackberry built products. Or at least that was my experience at Blackberry circa 2010 to 2012.
More attention was paid to the process in which work was done rather than what we were actually working on.
Look it is not to say that Blackberry was not innovative. They gave birth to the modern smartphone era. Blackberry was cool, it mean you were serious get sh*t done person. But, somewhere along the way, process took over. Creativity endeavors were not the priority but making sure the PRDs were incorporating feedback from carriers. That is why Blackberry struggled, in my opinion, making the shift from business to consumer space.
While at Apple from 2012-2017, I worked on everything from CoreOS projects to user facing features like iCloud Keychain, 2FA, Apple Wallet, Home App, pencil+ipad. Never once did we write a PRD or at least I never saw a PRD. As Steve said, our way of building features was the content. Content was always the focus - how do we surprise and delight the users.
Product Marketing <> Design <> Engineering collaborate on identifying areas where Apple can build surprise & delight.
A Story From the Walled Garden
Late 2016, as part of making iPad better, we built the PencilKit team which I was the EPM for. We started with all the wild possible ideas we could do.
We talked about handwriting recognition, new pencil utensils UI, ink store oh and yes, PencilKit framework which was just announced last year. Yup, we were thinking about this stuff way back then. We were talking Content. No one turned around and said, wait what about a PRD or documentation. We need to make sure the content was there because eventually all fantastic ideas are ideas until they ship and to ship you need to focus.
This is where the process came in. We knew when the iOS release was, that we had 4 development milestones 6wks of dev, 2wks of convergence (Apple’s version of sprints), WWDC was here, developer/beta seeds here. So, we began to mold these wild ideas into a few key killer features - content.
Once we had the features for our release, Design started building wireframes and ideas around what surprise and delight would look like. Again - no PRDs, user studies, etc. Engineering took those designs and collaborative start shaping the solution we need to build and then put together a project plan. When we started building the designs, demos to Craig + staff was how we garnered feedback.
Demos was a big part of the culture and process established before my time during the.. Steve era. Ken Kocienda talks a lot about the power of the demo culture at Apple in his book Creative Selection.
We had milestones to ask ourselves are we shipping the right experience. If it wasn’t ready, we didn’t delay the schedule or half ass it, we said no, you aren’t ready, next release. Process. Conviction. Apple famously said in a keynote “For every yes, we said a thousand no.”
So, when you listen to this interview, the takeaway I hope you leave with is:
❌ Content vs Process
✅ Content + Process = Winning
Any process that does not aid in channeling or shaping or focusing the CONTENT needs to be fixed or removed. That’s it. That is how to think about process.
Until next time. 👋
What did you think about this week’s newsletter?