Design Management Q&A
Issue 33: Experimenting with a new format
I did a live stream this past week about going from designer to manager on Andi Galpern’s Design Career Network. I posted on Twitter before the talk to ask what people wanted to learn about. There are so many good questions that we didn’t get to.
I figured I can write this issue answering some of the questions. Here are five questions that came up that I’d love to answer.
Question 1: How do you measure your own success as a manager?
In terms of the role and work, I measure it on how people on my team are achieving customer outcomes that end up helping the business.
However, I think the most important success for me is if people I managed to thrive in their careers. Whether they want to be a director, principal designer, or start their own company, success for me personally is if I contributed to them achieving it. One of my former designers was recently promoted to Product Design Manager and it brought me such joy when she told me.
Question 2: How do you know if you've made a mistake and should switch back?
I’m glad this question was asked. The path of individual contributor and manager are not points of no return. It's not a mistake, more of a realization. This should probably happen more than it does. If you want to switch back, have that conversation with your manager and devise a plan. Ask yourself where you would have the largest area of impact for your professional growth and the business. When I joined One Medical, I started as an individual contributor even though I had previous management experience. Remember that management is a role, not your identity. More people should switch back if they realize this. They’ll be much happier and the people they are managing will too.
Question 3: How do you manage an individual contributor that surpasses the level you reached before going into management?
I find the most effective managers have the generalist skills that of a senior designer in order to have enough breadth and depth. I recently hired a User Researcher who literally wrote a book on it. There’s no way I’ll ever have his knowledge, and that’s okay. Effective leaders know how to leverage their team’s expertise, and as you progress further in your management journey there is a likelihood you might oversee an area you’re not an expert in.
Question 4: Can you really say no when the company tells you to become a manager and nobody else can suit in the role around you?
You don't have to take the job and you don't have to keep moving up. Part of the reason we have so many untrained managers in the tech industry because of feeling obligated to take the promotion. Many early startups put people in management positions as they need to scale. I'd say most managers in that situation don't want to be managers. What happens if you say “no” to the promotion? Recommend hiring someone externally to level up the team. Make the case for why a more experienced person suited for the role is needed
Question 5: Do you miss the feeling of shipping? How do you operate effectively with a lot more nebulous accountability?
I don’t. I still get the feeling of shipping through my team now. Though I can’t point to a feature I worked on anymore, I can share praise for the achievements of the designers who did. I remember my first week as a manager was so nebulous. I didn’t work on any designs; just went to meetings and wasn’t sure what I actually got done. My recommendation is to set clear goals and constantly share what you’re working on with your team and leadership. Structure it in a way that you can connect the dots between the business goals and how your team is working on helping achieve them. It’s easier said than done!
They have some wonderful speakers. Whether you're seasoned in design or just getting started, Andi has created some wonderful content, and I recommend checking out Design Career Network.
If you enjoyed the Q&A format let me know and I’ll do more of these. There are many questions I didn't get to and will make sure I revisit them.