Operating Principles: what rules do you operate by?


What is it that I have learnt working in digital for over 20 years? What are the things in my career which have made the most impact on myself & those who have worked with me over that time?

I regularly get asked to provide insight, guidance & direction on how to approach customer, business & organisational problems, and every time the answer is the same;

What are your operational principles? Does the business, team, customer know what you, your team or your products stand for in the eyes of the consumer (internal & external)?

In my current role at News Corp Australia this is very much the focus of the team, as we hit against the 7 most expensive word in business daily;

We have always done it that way

So, I thought it was time to share my 13 operating principles that I try to build across my teams & those who work with then. My career to date has run through Waterfall, Agile, Lean, Kanban, #hacklife, Essentialism etc. and these still remain current & have true value everyday.

You can take this as a personal charter, a foundation to how you need to operate in today’s connected world & also those rules to keep true in all that you endeavour to achieve.

1/ There are no sacred cows

If there is a different way of doing something, look into it and test it. Take a step back & observe ‘is there a better way?’

2/ Ask for forgiveness not permission

It is OK to break the rules or processes, as long as you are able to recognize why they are there in the first place, and your approach is less but better.

3/ Less > more

Simple, effective and quick always trumps comprehensive, complex and late. Simplicity trumps complexity in everything, every time.

4/ Increment by default

Less features, less people involved, less time, less money. Start small, then scale, focused on the customer ‘jobs to be done’ at every increment.

5/ Embrace and be inspired by constraints

Creativity happens when people are solving problems and have constraints placed on them. Fix time, scope or resources, as this will aid creativity. The cost is the same to think 10% or 10x, so focus the team or your thinking on the biggest impact.

6/ Think big picture

Work from the top down: big picture/customer proposition first, then move into details. Focus on the solution too quickly means you will miss the patterns.

7/ Make decisions quickly and then move on

You are empowered. Always make lots of little decisions, and are prepared to kill things if they’re not working. Fail to learn as fast as possible.

8/ Everything is a work in progress & fluid

Iterate by default & build hypothesis to test & learn from for future iterations. Fluidity of teams & decisions means you are able to move quickly, respond to change & focus on the core need. Think & operate like a flock of birds or shoal of fish.

9/ Make it real as quickly as possible

Customers should play with and respond to real things, prototypes, as quickly as possible, instead of hypothetical concepts or mockups. Focus effort on the real. Move the powerpoint after you have conceived the proposition & experiments you want to test.

10/ Everything starts & ends with the customer

Conceive & design & develop with a customer fixation- solve customers’ problems & needs, then we get out of their way. The core needs of the customer will remain consistent, but you need to have empathy with their lives.

11/ Learn from customers

Look for patterns in real signals from the customer, be flexible and open to change tack. Everything is a system, so connect the dots for the customer.

12/ Think & operate like a network

Integrate everything — weave features, products and services across and into every offering. What you do should be easily found by, understood & delight the customer. Everything is a system or network, so look for the dots & connect them.

13/ Celebrate success and learn from failure

It’s ok to get things wrong, as long as we learn from the experience. Not everything will succeed: that’s why we back multiple horses. What you celebrate will form the culture of your team/business & also reflect on how you succeed.

Take these, evolve them for your teams & yourself, but what I have found from across multiple years working in digital, it is key to remain true to your principles & to have these foundational principles there to reference regularly.

Everything around you will change, extinction is the rule, so having your foundations clear makes everything clearer, increases focus, drives purpose and everything else is ‘upside’.

Onwards & upwards.

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