Apple laptop

When it comes to product development, Apple stands as the hallmark for innovation. This consumer electronics brand is synonymous with premium design and quality, and many of today’s devices (from smartphones to tablets) are a tip-of-the-hat to Apple’s industrial-design genius.

As much as we might like to take a deep dive into Apple’s unique product development processes, the company is legendary for a level of secrecy to rival that of the intelligence community. And because Apple’s groundbreaking design is chief among its market advantages, it’s no wonder its latest innovations are kept under wraps.

But for all its secrecy, we do have glimpses into the inner workings of Apple’s approach to product development. Here are three lessons from the industry icon that can benefit product development managers and their teams.

Empower Top Talent

Apple has earned a reputation for hiring only the best of the best. Moreover, it’s been known to create roles based on employees’ strengths rather than merely hiring for (or promoting to) a preexisting position. This unorthodox approach to empowering employees elevates the already elite-level skills of Apple’s designers, and the product Steve Jobs said he was the proudest of creating was not the iPod or iTunes, but his product teams. 

Develop a keen eye for top talent, and have your finger on the pulse of the unique gifts that individual team members bring to the table. When you identify these gifts, co-design roles that capitalize on them to greatest advantage while driving synergistic results. Allowing talent to focus on what they do best while remaining involved with the larger process is both personally rewarding and a highly profitable use of human capital.

Remain Visible and Hands-on

As a product development manager, it’s inevitable you’ll delegate some portions of the product development process to members of your team. But it’s essential to remain hands-on with the larger process as your vision is vital to the finished product and market performance.

This isn’t to say you should be overly directive (which can undermine the creativity and initiative of your team). Instead, lead tough conversations about potential improvements or alternate designs while being open to and supportive of ideas that may differ from your own. 

Apple COO, Jeff Williams, who took over management of Apple’s hardware and software design team earlier this year, is known to be highly visible in product development and shows interest in the look and feel of products. Williams helped steer the Apple Watch from a product initially aimed at techies and existing Apple fans to one successfully targeted at the health and fitness market. Today, the Apple Watch is one of the most highly regarded health and fitness trackers on the market, with the brand poised to make this device a “control center” for personal health.

Cultivate a Design Mindset

Jony Ive, Apple’s Chief Design Officer and the man known for “making Apple look like Apple” identified the traits of top product development professionals and the necessity of cultivating a design mindset. What are the traits that Ive says are even more important than technical or managerial expertise? 

  • Insatiable curiosity and a compulsive need to ask what-if questions.
  • Genuine interest in being proven wrong.
  • Clarity about what’s important to focus on, and absolute commitment to it.
  • Context sensitivity and insight.
  • Comfortable with ambiguity and contradiction.

Ive also stressed that with every challenge comes an opportunity. The most innovative product development professionals, contended Ive, are intrigued rather than discouraged by challenges and can actively sense the opportunities they bring. 

From hiring and empowering top talent, to remaining visible and hands-on, to cultivating a design mindset, Apple has created processes that product development managers and their teams can learn and benefit from. In fact, these are among the processes we’ve put to work at Pivot International to deliver award-winning product designs.

Pivot is a single-source collaborative design, development, and manufacturing firm with facilities worldwide. With more than 46 years of experience, we’ll work closely with you to innovate inspiring solutions to your toughest product development challenges, helping your business successfully scale in the Age of Industry 4.0. Reach out to us today and consult with one of our design professionals for free. We’d love to hear from you!