Common Sense Engineering

1 minute read

Some years ago a friend of mine was asked by another person which process they used in the company he was CTO for. He gave a great answer: “More than a precise methodology, we use common sense”.

Such a simple definition struck a chord with me. The job should always be to remove complexity rather than adding it.

Common sense is not so common
Voltaire got it right - background image by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

So what is common sense engineering for me?

It’s fast feedback

It’s learning what matters, build, test and iterate. The world is moving fast: customers’ needs change, competitors innovate. The only way to thrive in such a world is by acknowledging uncertainty and deal with it. Fast feedback helps you reduce unknown unknowns while maximising learning opportunities. Shape experiments that 1)increase learnings (what is required), and 2) accelerate future execution (how is going to be done).

It’s keeping customers at heart

We are creating products for people. The best way to know what they need is to stay as close as possible to the end users. To achieve that, cut through as many proxy metrics and abstraction layers as possible. Engineers should talk to customers, understand their goals. In this way, the “how” will follow naturally.

It’s close collaboration

It’s actually more than collaboration: it’s co-creation because creating disruptive products is an empirical exercise that requires a team effort, with all the actors working together towards the goal. Such type of interaction level can be achieved by maximising open and honest communication between everyone. In other words: it’s about trust.

It’s creating optionality

Creating amazing products is an empirical exercise achieved by iteration, having options and flexibility built-in to turn the ship if necessary, is key to success. It means creating a malleable engineering solution, using a “simple but not simplistic” mindset and work with evolutionary architecture principles.

Practices are relevant within context and change over time. They act as a guardrail but be ready to adapt and evolve. Principles are the cornerstones of common sense engineering: they work as the north star in my decision making.

Voltaire once said:

Common sense is not so common

Looking at the industry, I tend to agree with him. Use these four principles and you have a simple yet effective framework to create game-changing products.

Updated: