Self Improvement Lessons From Product Development

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Product development methodologies have evolved over the past few decades from the old days of ‘waterfall’ to now cutting-edge ‘agile’ methodologies. Religious use of such methodologies has resulted in development of some of the world’s best software products. What if we could apply such lessons to self improvement?

While there are any lessons learnt from product development that can be applied to life and self improvement, here are a few:

Set deadlines. Product teams are typically held to deadlines. The optimization they’re looking for is not some vague idea, to be considered when the time is right. Deadlines demand a serious, concentrated effort that yields results, and is a great tool for focusing. In the same vein, people should set their own deadlines for self-improvement. Goal setting is a crucial element in both product and personal improvement.

Rely on user feedback. Product teams look for new features to build based in part on user feedback. In the context of interpersonal relationships, we often tend to scoff at criticism or negative feedback, but those are actually golden opportunities for growth. Just as developers sometimes have blind spots concerning the product, or misunderstandings regarding the ways people will be affected by different features, so do we as individuals regarding ourselves. We should seriously and open-heartedly listen to feedback from those around us (co-workers, friends, family) to identify areas for self-improvement.

Identify unique differentiators. Products are also often created or updated to fill holes in the marketplace with a unique differentiator. This demands an understanding of the product’s identity, of what needs development and, no less important, what not to develop. This same idea could apply to people too, especially in the workplace, where employees should look around and identify what no one else in their company is doing and then build the skills and expertise to help their company succeed in a certain area. And it is no less relevant in a social and interpersonal context.

Go agile. As you progress with the methodology of your self-improvement, the tenants of “agile marketing” can also come in handy. For example, develop small, incremental releases and iterate. This is a very optimistic concept for personal development: The goal you’re aiming at doesn’t need to happen in full tomorrow morning. It’s enough that you take small steps toward it, one after the other, to ensure that you will get there eventually.

This age of the version release carries with it a trade-off. On the one hand, nothing is ever finished, everything is temporary and the new quickly becomes outdated. Staying relevant is becoming ever harder. On the other hand, it carries the sweet and hopeful promise for betterment. There will always be the next version release — of your favorite app, of that annoying bug in the software, of the camera on your phone — and, if you work hard enough, even of you.

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