Lessons Learned While Working on Apple Watch

As the Apple’s Sept. 7 event approaches, I’ll be looking at a few major Apple articles that were published last month.

Let’s start with this one by Mark Sullivan for Fast Company. He asked Bob Messerschmidt, a former Apple employee through acquisition, the lessons he learned at Apple. It’s not an uncommon type of article, but this one is particularly insightful.

There are 8 lessons in total, so let’s just look at a few:

Lesson 1: How to work with Jony Ive’s industrial design group...

I went to a meeting and said I’m going to put sensors in the watch but I’m going to put them down here (he points to the underside of the Apple Watch band he’s wearing) because I can get a more accurate reading on the bottom of the wrist than I can get on the top of the wrist. They (the Industrial Design group) said very quickly that “that’s not the design trend; that’s not the fashion trend. We want to have interchangeable bands so we don’t want to have any sensors in the band.”

It’s already known that Apple, especially their ID team, have an uncompromising position on how they want certain things to occur in their devices. But what struck me in particular is their use of the word “trend”. Apple doesn’t strike me as a company that cares about trends, especially since it takes many years before a simple idea takes shape as an actual consumer product – trends are likely outdated by then.

I think it goes back to how they looked at the watch, as opposed to the phone: with more respect for what preceded their version of the device. Maybe, though, they had a bit too much respect and was too caught up in their fascination and excitement in creating a watch of their own that they forgot to ask what it could be used for in the grand scheme of things.

Lesson 6: Engineers vs. marketers

If you talk to an engineer at Apple they would say “we make all the decisions and marketing has no power.” And “there’s really no marketing at Apple,” they would say. Then there was this whole building, one of the Infinite Loop buildings, that was full of marketing people. And I thought “that’s interesting; I wonder what those guys do.” Then I would have meetings with some of the marketing people and they would say “You know it’s interesting; we make all the decisions at Apple—the engineers make none of the decisions at Apple.”

And you can attribute this to SJ [Steve Jobs], that he recognized engineers don’t get along with marketing people; marketing people don’t get along with engineers. They’re different mindsets, right? I don’t have any evidence of this, but I would like to think that he consciously set up that structure where there was very little interaction between marketing and engineering. Everything went up and back down through the central committee, through the E-team (executive team). So there was a structure that allowed both of them to think they were running the show.

Definitely a conscious decision. How that will play out in the singular Apple Campus 2, I’m not sure – maybe they’ll be at opposite sides of the building – but I bet that organizational structure will continue to exist.

This is probably the most potent lesson learned by Messerschmidt:

Lesson 7: Apple is structured like a startup

There were no business units at Apple. There was only one profit center. So what that means is there aren’t 10 different people trying to make some number—their revenue number or cost number or whatever the number is. That’s totally different (from other tech companies). So nobody has to compete for resources, really, because it’s all the same bucket of money.

Engineers were not necessarily too burdened with coming up with budgets. They’d just say what they wanted to do and the answer would come down.

Reminds me of Steve Jobs’ explanation of how Apple works:


He also called Apple a start-up, in that one person is in charge of each department and they meet throughout the week to discuss everything that happens. Apple can afford to do that because, as Messerschmidt mentions, there’s only one profit center: their device sales. Apple might be doing many things at once, but at the end of the day, everything defers to the single goal of selling devices at a high profit margin. No other major tech company can really say they have that. (Maybe Tesla is an exception.)

Jobs also called Apple “incredibly collaborative”. You might think that it’s contradictory to the previous thing Messerschmidt talked about, but I think it’s more of a functional thing than anything else. You don’t have separate teams from different departments working on different products in different locations. There might be a few exceptions, such as their current car project, which by nature, requires a different location and skill set. But as Jobs said, it’s a matter of trusting everyone else in different departments to pull through with their work.

Source: Fast Company