Product development guiding principle: Cross-pollination over imposed standards

Jason Yip
2 min readAug 28, 2022

Guiding principle in effective product development culture.

There are many ways to say it: de facto over de jure standards, natural over imposed consistency, cross-pollination over imposed standards. They are all describing the same way to answer the question: how should standard ways of doing something be spread more broadly?

So why might a standard be valuable enough to bother trying to spread?

Standards are useful to simplify learning and address variation of performance

Standards are useful to avoid everyone having to learn a new way of doing things every time they interact with a new team.

3 teams with different answers to 2 questions: 1. Where to ask questions; 2. How to make requests. First team: Jira, Jira. Second team: Slack, Email. Third team: Prayer, Owls.
Non-standard team interaction protocols

Standards are useful to address variation of performance, that is, if there’s a better way of doing something, a standard can be used to spread it across teams.

3 teams reinventing the wheel
Re-inventing the wheel rather than spreading it via a standard

The problem with imposed standards is context

There are problems with imposing a centralised standard.

There’s a cost to having to learn different approaches every time you switch context BUT it’s also unlikely that one approach is optimal for every context AND we want to allow for experimentation to discover even better approaches.

One team invents a wheel so a central authority imposes a standard for all teams to use wheels. One team says “Wheels! Cool!” while another team says “Uh, we’re on water…”
Imposed standards are not optimal for all contexts

Cross-pollination encourages de facto standardisation while allowing for flexibility

Ensure everyone is aware of defaults but also has the autonomy to choose an alternate approach as appropriate.

Make defaults easy to do (aka Golden Path) but leave the option open to choose an alternate approach as appropriate. This allows for context-specific adjustments AND experimentation to find even better approaches.

One teams invents the wheel. There is cross-pollination across teams. The central authority tries to make it easier to use wheels. One team says “No thanks, we’re on water. We’re trying something we’re calling sails.”
Make defaults easy but leave the option open for alternatives

Cross-boundary protocols generally warrants stronger guidance, even imposition

Communication and interaction protocols across boundaries are where standardisation is important even if it requires more imposition.

“We’ve decided we don’t like how HTTP is defined. Here are the verbs we use and how to interpret our error codes.”
Standardisation are more important for protocols and may warrant imposition



Jason Yip

Senior Manager Product Engineering at Grainger. Extreme Programming, Agile, Lean guy. Ex-Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl