At Involution, as a part of our commitment to learning and growing as a company, we conduct semi-regular studio critiques. This kind of critique is important to our ongoing evolution as an organization and helps everyone, from leadership to staff, understand the broad vision and values of the studio. As a part of that ongoing discussion, we're drafting a set of principles that we believe apply to great companies, especially great design companies. Some of these principles are inspired by "Achieving Excellence in Your Design Practice" by Stuart Rose. While the book was first written in 1987 for architectural firms, the principles within it apply to modern design practices in the digital and software realms, as well. Here, then, are nine principles we believe are characteristic of great companies.

Visual Notes on Principles of Great Companies

Visual note taking from principles of great companies brainstorming session.

1. Great companies focus.
It's difficult if not impossible to be great at something if your attention is divided. The same is true of companies. Don't try to do too much. Try sharpshooting rather than using a shotgun. Provide a unique service to clients and develop a niche business.

2. Great companies care about quality.
In our get-it-to-market-quickly world, where the greatest product is whatever is coming next, it's ironic that quality may be the last, best differentiator. Cutting corners is far too easy, and the pressure to do so is intense. Don't give in. It's not worth it. Have a value set that includes quality of workmanship and make sure that every staff member and, just as importantly, every client shares and accepts that vision.

3. Great companies make things.
While it may not always be possible to have input into and control over the total system and process for designing and developing a product, it's a worthy goal. Of course, understanding the business, technical, and user requirements and constraints for a product are critical to generating an excellent design. But being involved in the process from ideation to prototyping to production to testing to final release and onward ensures that the total product design is honored. Whether you're designing and making something for clients or for your company, the same philosophy applies. Great companies are involved through the entire lifecycle of the product — from design to build.

4. Great companies take risks.
Experimentation is key to discovering new technologies, techniques, and potential product paths. If you're interested in finding the next great product, it's worth making lots of (small) bets and seeing what works out.

5. Great companies breed openness and transparency.
It's essential that a company be able to confront the facts, not matter how brutal they may be, and face them head on. Being able to grapple with the truth about everything from internal company operations to external economic conditions is a critical component when striving for excellence. However, at the same time, while companies should be rigorous about these assessments, they should never be ruthless.

As a corollary to this tenet, employees should feel comfortable to argue, challenge, and discuss ideas across levels. Solutions can and do come from everyone, so we should embrace this kind of fluidity and ambiguity. To encourage this open discussion, and build trust, staff and leadership should have meals together.

6. Great companies decentralize decision making.
Empowering staff to make important decisions based on company principles and values, will not only improve efficiency, but also enable leadership to provide vision and guidance — steering the ship rather than manning the oars. Staff should be able to act as entrepreneurs within the larger organization, pushing projects forward and providing clients with great service.

7. Great companies measure performance.
You can't see, analyze, or fix problems if you don't have the data. Setting goals and reviewing results on a regular basis, not just for financial and project oriented items, but also in regards to team dynamics and client interactions and service will enable a company to continuously improve.

8. Great companies are profitable.
Profitability enables continued growth, evolution, and commitment to quality and excellence. The financial system that runs a great company should be designed for profitability so that all these elements can be honored.

9. Great companies evolve.
Especially in today's ever changing digital world, it's vital that a company be able to change as needed, to shift tactics when one potential solution misses the mark. We will not be doing the same jobs a year from now. As a corollary to this tenet, companies need to educate and train staff in order for them to grow, change, and remain competitive. Just as importantly, and for the same reasons, clients should receive ongoing training as well.

These are some of the principles that we strive for here at Involution. What are your key tenets for creating a great company?