Don't decide who you need until you've determined what you need

When formulating a new project, idea, or team, it’s natural and typical to pull in the usual suspects. You know who they are without thinking about it too hard, though it’ll differ by person or project: you might pull in people by title (a Product Person, a Design Person, a Technical Person), or by familiarity and past work together, or you might just go with whoever’s available.

This is easy to justify. It’s not even necessarily even the wrong people. But it’s not the right way to build your team.

Instead, first consider what specifically you need from people to succeed here. Rather than “John and Anja always work well together, let’s get them on board”, or “we need Product and Engineering so grab the most senior available of each”, get into the facets of competencies you need:

  • do you need pixel-perfect designs, and/or deeply empathetic understanding of how a user will navigate the flows of the system, and/or a strong researcher? One of these might be more important than the others.
  • do you need to manage rituals? or be a central hub for communication? or have a strong sense of the business goals and how they relate to the project, allowing them to decide what’s not important and what’s essential?
  • do you need someone that can reliably take an existing system and scale it to millions of users, or someone that can build a new system from scratch, or someone that has deep context and recent experience with the system you’re trying to augment or modify?

Once you’ve figured out what competencies are truly essential, you might end up picking the same people that you would have otherwise. It’s fine to have good instincts.

But often you’ll find something like: the right technical person to pull in is the intern that’s spent the last month linting and upgrading the system you want to modify; or the right product person isn’t the one that runs great rituals, but the one that came out of customer support just last year and knows how your users think; or the right designer is terrible at Figma but great at whiteboarding a user flow.

Nail down the characteristics you need, and then pick your people.

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