I’ve long wanted to write about the little known Disney method, also called Walt Disney strategy, as information about it on the web is very sparse.

Walt Disney was not only known as great entrepreneur, but also as an individual who could switch easily between many different roles . Quoted from Wikipedia, he was “film producer, director, screenwriter, voice actor, animator, entrepreneur, entertainer, international icon and philanthropist“, and these are only his official roles. The Walt Disney method essentially strips it down to three, sometimes four: The dreamer, the realiser, the critic and the outsider. It is a highly effective creative method inspired by Disney, and can handle almost any product creation process. Before I’m going to explain how it can be applied to the web development world, I’ll first explain the basics.

The Disney method explained

Essentially a role playing strategy, the Disney method is said to work best with four different roles (I usually skip the forth though..):

  • Dreamer (visionary, delivering ideas)
  • Realiser (doer)
  • Critic
  • Outsider (consultant, reviewer)

Take four chairs and mark them with above roles. As single technique, it is recommended to start within the neutral position to analyze the problem. I, however, recommend to start as dreamer, since there’s in fact not always a problem you want to solve. When you’re sitting on the first chair, you start brainstorming until you have a beautiful complete vision. As soon as the dreamer in you is happy, you move on to the next chair, taking the role of the realiser. You analyze the dreamer’s ideas and make sure they’re implementable, or strip them down accordingly. When you think it works out, you pass your product to the critic, who will then try to find anything possibly wrong with it. When the though review is done, take a deep breath as outsider or neutral consultant to review everything from a bird’s perspective, and explore if every chair role is happy. If they’re not, simply continue your circle: Pass the dreamer the finished implementation and critique, and let him explore different or additional directions. Do those steps, until everyone is considerably happy with the product.

The whole strategy can of course also be applied to groups of people, meaning you have a full discussion going on between the roles, and every couple minutes you move places. However, I highly suggest trying out the single variant, because it proved to be much more effective for me personally.

Applying it the web development

As already mentioned, the Disney method can be applied to almost any situation. Let’s apply our roles to the web development world and see how they would look like:

  • Dreamer becomes Designer, Prototyper
  • Realiser becomes Engineer
  • Critics become your users, investors

Note that I skipped the neutral role, because the new critic above can essentially be both, and it allows for faster iteration. Now that we have a fully working cycle for a web development situation, let’s narrow it down and focus on individual implementation aspecs:

Going into detail: Implementation roles

If it’s not working well enough on a high level like above, you can always narrow it down to more granular roles. As an example, I’m taking the engineer role, and splitting it up into three:

  • Model
  • View
  • Controller

or how about this one:

  • Rapid prototyper
  • Frontend engineer
  • Backend engineer
  • Performance Guru

As you can see, there are endless possibilities.

Now why should I do it anyway?

The whole point about the Disney method is that it allows you to understand your co-workers, the flow of a product, and the most effective path to your end goal. It gives you the chance to have a look at each role’s unique perspective, how they see themselves and others around them, and when mastered, gives you a bird eye or global view that incredibly improves your leadership or individual role. If you do it a couple times, it’s very likely you start projecting your 4 chairs on your actual co-workers and naturally improve the workflow.

Switching between different roles is a unique and highly rewarding skill. I personally believe that this particular skill let Disney become the legend he is today. If Walt Disney was running a web business, he would simply add a couple more roles to his mind model and start to build up highly successful web products.

Now go ahead and grab some chairs!

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