Box vice-president of product design Ethan Batraski views his job as a balancing act between fixing his users' current problems and anticipating the needs they'll have in the future.

The second part of his job is sometimes a load of crap, he admits. 

At a design-focused roundtable hosted Thursday by The OutCast Agency in San Francisco, New York Times reporter Quentin Hardy asked the designers present if there was anything their teams practiced that they thought was bullshit. 

"Things that are bullshit: [2016 Fiscal Year] planning," Batraski said. "As a product leader, you have to keep up with the rate of change, and by planning a year ahead and trying to resource against that, you are planning for something that you know is going to change. You deliberately are making decisions that you know you are not going to keep."

Box is an enterprise-focused file-sharing and cloud-storage business whose customers include 97 percent of the companies on the Fortune 500. Batraski said it's nearly impossible to anticipate the problems that his users will have in two years.

"My product teams are planning every two weeks, and the roadmap is changing every two weeks," he said.

But that doesn't mean that he's ready to spurn long-term roadmaps altogether. Planning for the future is the only way to have a chance at staying ahead of competitors. Still, it's difficult to justify dedicating resources to something that you know might end up being a waste of time. 

So how do you divide your resources accordingly?

Batraski said that Box adopted Google's "20 percent time" initiative, which encourages employees to spend one-fifth of their week pursuing a company-related creative project. Batraski specifically asks his team to focus that 20 percent on the company's future. It's OK that those sessions lead to a set of evolving plans. 

As he put it: "It's adapting, and being adaptive means you're actually thinking about, How do I get ahead?"

Published on: Jan 16, 2015