I have been working with multi-dimensional teams for a long time now as a product/solution manager. There are things that are very different when it comes to working with design teams as opposed to technology teams. The biggest difference is that the technology development process is more standardized, the process is repeatable and will yield the same results every time. The design, on the other hand, works on the opposite end of the spectrum. Every project is unique when it comes to design.
Hence I wanted to write down from my experience, as a manager, what are some of the key elements that one needs to keep in mind to get the best out of your design team.
Expect progress to be very slow, to begin with.
When you start any project you should always know that to start seeing very tangible design output takes time. Unlike coding where you can start seeing progress right at the beginning, design works slightly differently. It takes a good amount of time to grasp the needs of the user, marry it to what the business requirements and then build concepts around it.
You have to have patience in this phase. If you push the design team a lot during this time you run the risk of making an extremely expensive error, as what you build would not create the kind of impact you have been hoping for.
Context is the key.
There is very little information on the project that doesn’t affect the design team. The more the design team knows about the context of the project, the more impactful is your solution.
Make sure you have at least the leads, attend most of the conversations with the client. They need to know the history of the solution if it’s a revamp, the challenges/objectives from a business standpoint, any boundary line cases etc.. The more they know, the better.
Don’t jump to conclusions.
When any design team presents you with an option, don’t have any pre-conceived notions attached to it right away.
Always provide the design team an opportunity to talk through the whole design. It often happens that the design may still change, but the thought process of the designers will lead to a lot of new ideas.
All the feedback is in the form of questions.
There will be several occasions when you will have valid feedback on the design, make sure that you provide all the feedback as questions. I often say, “Why can’t we think this way?”, “Do you think something like this would work better?”, “What are your thoughts on an alternate approach?” etc.
Note that to come up with any design the designer would have spent hours thinking through it. Never say let’s change this without providing an option to the design team to counter it. Design teams will welcome criticism this way, which is such a key aspect of building a quality solution.
Challenge the design team on the impact created and not just on the screens.
Often the tendency is to get carried away by the color palette used, the icon set, the navigation scheme, interactions etc.. Note that as a manager your goal is to achieve goals/objectives on the project. While you should surely provide feedback on the aspects mentioned above, keep thinking about the big picture and challenge your team to solve some of the more pertinent issues.
Challenge your team with questions around the impact the solution being built will create. Challenge them to think holistically. Pose them with more questions and don’t lead them to a pre-determined solution.
Your design teams are the key to unlocking great human experience. The impact they create is solely dependent on how you channelize all their efforts as a product manager.
The above-mentioned points are what I have learned with my experience. I would love to hear any additional points you folks have learned from your experience.