Apple’s Swashbuckling Product Development Style
In Chapter 13 of the Steve Jobs Biography, Walter Isaacson describes how in the creation of the first Mac, Jobs formed a development team that operated outside of the boundaries of the Apple organization and was filled with people that “were creative, wickedly smart, and slightly rebellious.”
Isaacson goes on to describe how Jobs had wanted to instill a “rebel spirit in his team, to have them behave like swashbucklers who were proud of their work but willing to commandeer from others.” Jobs essentially wanted a group that could focus, move fast and get things down.
On Day 2 of the trial between Apple and Samsung, where Apple insists that “Samsung is free-riding on $1 billion in marketing“, Scott Forstall describes the secrecy and independent action of the team behind the creation of the iPhone.
To build the iPhone team, Forstall looked for “true superstars” at the company, he told the jury, and made them an offer. “I’d tell them, you’re going to be incredibly successful at Apple if you just stay in your current role,” began Forstall. “But I have another option for you. We’re starting a new project, so secret I can’t even tell you what the new project is. I can’t tell you who you will work for. What I can tell you is, if you choose to accept this role, you’re going to work harder than you ever have in your life—you’re going to have to give up nights and wekeends, maybe for years, as we put together this project. Amazingly, some people accepted this challenge, and we built the iPhone team.”
He was able to move Apple employees away from products they were currently working on, even when that delayed releases of other products, said Forstall. Secrecy infused everything about the project.
“We took one of the buildings we had in Cupertino, and we locked it down,” he said. “We had doors with badge readers—to get into some of our labs you had to ‘badge in’ four times. The original iPhone was called the ‘Purple Project.’ I refered to this building as the purple dorm—it was very much like a dorm. People were there all the time, nights, weekends. On the front door we wrote the word ‘Fight Club,’ because the first rule about Fight Club in that movie is, you don’t talk about Fight Club. I personally dedicated years of my life to this, as did hundreds of people on this team. It was very, very difficult.”
Love it or hate it, it seems that Apple’s winning Skunk Works style product development process is here to stay.
Brian Ling (Design Sojourn)
Brian is a multidisciplinary Design Leader with more than 18 years of experience leading strategic design programs that drives successful Brands and Fortune 500 businesses such as GE, Philips, Nakamichi, Flextronics, Ericsson, Hannspree, and HP. His passion is in helping organisations leverage on Design Driven Innovation to make people’s lives better.
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