My role as a UX Leader

Having spent the past year helping to build an in-house Design team I have evolved my thinking about its role within the organization. I have also thought about the role that each person has in making the team a success. Lastly, and arguably the most important, my responsibilities as a senior-level Designer in the team. One of my strengths is the ability to collaborate with both project management and engineering organizations. In the triad of PM, Engineering and UX, it is often the role UX to help pull these cross-functional teams together. To help identify and bring focus to the people that will interact/engage and, in some cases, depend on the experience that is being built. My best moments often involve standing in front of a whiteboard as I find it a great tool for helping facilitate a discussion. Getting a small group of people with different perspectives to arrive at a mutual understanding of a concept leading to a clear set of objectives/goals gives me a great sense of accomplishment. How the next steps are translated into actions for bringing the new concept to life is when I rely most on my team members.

In our team, we have chosen a model that partners a senior member with a junior member. In previous organizations, I have usually been a UX “team of one” so the transition of having a person focused on “production” was a bit of a challenge for me. I quickly realized the advantage of partnering with a person capable of turning my whiteboard sketches, user flows and wireframe into deliverables. One advantage being more opportunity to lead the “discovery” process to identify and enable new scenarios. Second, it also provides more opportunity to have deeper engagement in both technical and business related discussions. Understanding how the business makes decisions helps provide focus and set priority for the team.

The biggest shift for me over the past year has been the realization that as a senior-level Designer, it is my responsibility to help those around me be successful and achieve their goals. I read a lot of books and articles related to UX management, leadership, team building, lean and design thinking, entrepreneurship and start-ups. What I have learned from all the reading is that there is a different between being a MANAGER and being a LEADER. I now see my responsiblity as a senior-level Designer to empower and provide opportunities for growth. Providing opportunities to a junior-level Designer that pull them out of their comfort zone and by including them in discussions forces them to be better team members. Ironically, this shift has made me a better Designer by improving the way I communicate, my approach to projects and a greater understanding of how to capitalize on an opportunity. As a UX leader and mentor, it is not my job to manage another persons career, but it is my responsibility to help them to be successful in it.

A sampling of the articles that have helped shift my thinking:
:: Building a design-driven culture
:: Just What is a UX Manager?
:: Attention is the Currency of Leadership
:: Don’t let team politics get in the way of shipping great design