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Design thinking vs Grand Design

Most product companies today operate in a model that embodies design thinking - where they constantly discover user needs, validate ideas and ship incremental improvements. In such companies, individual product teams are empowered to decide what features to introduce, how they work, etc and the leadership only acts in a coaching role to enable product teams to run faster.

Even though this is the popular way for product companies to operate today, there are successful companies like Apple and WeChat that operate in a Grand Design model. In such companies, what gets built is the vision of one or a handful of individuals at the top, and often not as incremental improvements.

While they are both good approaches to take, they come with their own sets of positives and problems.

The key one being the kind of talent they attract. While Apple and WeChat can compensate for the lack of autonomy with the associated brand and recognition, many smaller companies and startups will struggle to attract and retain good talent while working in a grand design model.

There are many arguments that can be made for which model is more suitable in what scenario, as Julian Birkinshaw does in this HBR article, but the point about attracting and retaining good talent always remains.

After all, how work gets done is what defines the culture of a company.

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