What is the hardest part of running a design team?

This was cross posted from Quora where I’m answering questions on design leadership.

I don’t think anything is ‘hard’ per sè. There are various challenges of running large teams and then even more for running large teams in different locations.

It all boils down to communication.

If you’re an effective leader, with solid communication skills and are focused on making your team better than you are then you’re well on your way.

Create a community

This should be the base of your role, everything stacks on top of it. Get the right balance of bringing the team together face-to-face and virtually. Make sure they’re open with their work and are also effective communicators

Remove blockers

Your team can’t do their best work when they’re constantly embattled with silly processes

Get a seat at the table

Sell/Preach the value of your profession up the chain, these days in any organisation, design should have a seat at the table

Develop your team

To develop your team you have to know them. Know them well enough so the personal and professional development becomes easy for you to support them with.

Listen to your team

They’re on the front line, often working with other professions and personalities in multi-disciplinary teams. Support them.

Remember your role

You’re not supposed to be there until you retire. You’re there to let everyone in your team have the chance at taking your job at some point in their career.

Hope that helps. If you want to know more, send me an email.

Complaining is nothing without action.

Complaining is nothing without action.

If you’re passionate enough to complain, then you have an equal amount of passion to lean in, engage and make something better.

Your greatest supporters WILL NOT be the ones helping you to complain or the ones listening to you complain.

Your greatest supporters WILL be those helping to channel your passion and enabling you to succeed.

So, the next time you want to complain, ask yourself if it’s worth complaining, and if it is, use that passion, lean in, engage and put a dent in the universe.

A letter from the future

Dear past me,

You were right, we’re more connected than ever before. We didn’t look for calm in our lives nor did we look to take anything away.

You see, connectivity and devices are still everywhere. No longer are they just in our pockets and attached to our wrists.

What you had back then was only the start.

People laughed when they said they wanted less notifications and interruptions, that they didn’t need wearables or the internet of things.

You on the other hand often used to think about how this would all turn out, you thought that instead of less, there would be more, just different.

You were so right.

Now the entire world is connected, Facebook and Google did good on their promise and regions of the world that never had connectivity are 100% covered with connector drones.

You’re probably wondering about how things have changed? It’s probably best explained with a rundown of my day.

Eleanor knows the optimal time for me to wake up so she does so in a natural manner providing an increase of natural light and ambient noise around me to wake me. I jump out of bed with a spring in my step as I’m fully rested and ready for the day. I head to the bathroom to grab a shower which is nice and warm as Eleanor had the switched it on just a couple of minutes before I woke.

As I get dry, I wander back to the bedroom as Eleanor brings up my vitals on the HUD. She lets me know that the work that I’ve been doing in the gym has had a good effect on my resting heart rate, my BMI has been stable for a week and my muscle growth is on track. She notes that I should take a hay-fever tablet as a precaution as she’s found a higher level of pollen which will have an effect on me. Thanks, Eleanor.

We run through my diary for the day. Eleanor gives me a run down of the personality types for the people I’m meeting. She’s recognised that I’ll have to change my approach for one specific meeting in order for me to get a positive outcome.

Eleanor has my breakfast ready downstairs, I pull it directly from the refrigerator, we still have them, but as well as stocking our cold food, they also make it for us as well. She’s stored the rest of the days meal data directly to the hub so everything will be ready on schedule.

At 08:45 I leave for the office. I walk upstairs, open my office door and my commute is done. You see, our team is totally remote, but we now achieve this in a way you would never have done in the past.

Eleanor has the VHUB ready, I step in and the curved door slides shut behind me. The floor of the VHUB moves beneath your feet as you walk, so you effectively walk and move in the same way as you would walk down the street. I connect in to our company hub, the 360 degree screens around me display our reception, the early birds are already here. There are over a million sensors in the VHUB tracking my every movement.

The VHUB enables our company to have a virtual office where all the staff are at, we’re just not actually there. Everything is virtual. I think at one time you would have called these holograms, but to look at any of your friends in the VHUB is like looking at them face to face.

At work, everything is virtual but so incredibly real, we can do all of our jobs yet don’t have to be together to do them.

After work I decide to head out to the local park for a run, there’s traffic so Eleanor recalculates the best route, I sit back and ask Eleanor to give me a running route to help with some cardio training. As we arrive at the park Eleanor prepares the data I need for the run and syncs it to my eye-glass (it’s like a contact lens but way more functional).

Most people have hearing chips these days which connect with your eye-glass. You can do everything through voice activation. No more carrying around a device, they’re almost part of us. As soon as I begin talking Eleanor simply recognises my voice.

It’s only 3pm, work days are shorter now due to the heightened productivity our world now lives in. Due to everything being connected we have nothing to take up time in our lives allowing me to go for a run or enjoy time with the family. Everything is smarter now, not harder.

Oh, and by the way, Eleanor, that’s the name of my halo system, the thing that takes care of me.

New hardware and technology have given us the ability to live with connectivity all around us in an non-disruptive and non-obtrusive way.

This is it. This is our world.

A stand up, retro or planning does not make you ‘agile’.

Having worked within government for a little over a year now, I’ve seen a lot.

I’ve heard from teams who work within Home Office, Land Registry, DVLA, HMRC and my own teams within the Department for Work and Pensions.

I’ve found that fellow Interaction Designers, Front-end Developers, Content Designers and a few more roles work in agile environments. They often don’t just work in these environments, but they live in them. They get the value and often they’re the driving force behind keeping them going.

Over recent months I’ve spoken to teams in other areas and asked “What is your way of working?” and follow it up with “Agile, waterfall or wagile?”

It often gets a lot of laughs, but I’m deadly serious in my questioning. I ask to quickly determine what a teams setup is, how empowered the team is to make quick changes, iterate and deliver at speed.

Sometimes I hear the right answers, and unfortunately sometimes I hear the worst kind of answers like “Agile, we do standups and everything…”

Whilst that’s not what I’m wanting to hear, which I’ll get to in a minute, it doesn’t dishearten me as it’s a huge opportunity to guide or provide an ‘education piece’ as I describe it.

You see, doing standups, retrospectives and planning is not agile. You don’t suddenly become agile by doing ceremonies. I’d challenge anyone that tells me any different.

If you truly want to ‘BE’ agile, you have to realise the fundamentals of being able to move at speed, learn, iterate, fail fast, iterate and deliver. To ‘BE’ agile, you have to have a clear focus that it is ultimately about the delivery of something, iterate and continuously deliver.

There’s something which can often derail  ‘being agile’ before it even gets off the ground, especially in government and that’s risk. It’s a killer. But here’s something which we can all try… worry about risk where risk needs worrying about, everywhere else you can focus on doing the above.

I’m looking forward to meeting more teams in the near future and delivering education pieces on how to ‘BE’ agile and to focus on helping them figure out there ways of working and I’m excited to find a team that is truly being agile to learn from them and feed that back in to my own work.

Let’s all try and BE rather than DO.

Reboot.

It’s time.

Make no mistake, 2016 has been the worst year ever and as I write this I’m nearly half way through one of the worst weeks.

I’ve been managing to write snippets on Medium when I’ve felt able, but there’s been nothing of substance here for so long and I felt like I couldn’t even begin to write anymore.

So what do you do when something stalls or becomes frozen?

You switch it off and on again.

So this is the reboot, the thing you do when you want to get going again and I’ve got a lot to say.

Management is great leadership

I don’t like the term manager, I never have.

It has an air of dictatorship about it and goes against what a leader should be.

Don’t get me wrong, I think on occasion you do have to manage situations and generally this is when something has gone wrong.

Good managers are leaders, and as Simon Sinek said;

“Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.”

Leading is a bit like being a parent

I was asked once what my thoughts were on leadership. After taking a few moments to consider my answer, I replied;

“It’s much like being a parent, you must give them the confidence to do things they’d not ordinarily do, provide them with the room to learn, mentor them along the way and put your foot down when necessary.”

Those sit at the core of being a good leader. There are more things that sit on the periphery but let us focus on those core pieces.

Give confidence

It’s hard for some to do a good job when they don’t know they’re doing a job in the first place. It takes nothing to instil some confidence in a team or an individual and it can improve morale immeasurably.

Give people the confidence to try new things, do something they wouldn’t normally do and use their initiative instead of being oppressive.

It’s a bit like throwing them in at the deep-end for the first time without their arm bands on but standing at the edge of the pool ready to dive in whenever they need you.

Providing the room to learn

Overwhelming your team with workload is bad, overwhelming your team with workload and not letting them have a few days off for professional development is madness. There is no value in stopping them from learning, there is an exponential value in giving them the room to learn new skills or expand on the ones they already have.

Whether it’s internal training, external training, workshops or conferences – showing your team that you care about them and their professional skills enough to provide training time for them is immeasurable.

Mentor

This is linked to some of the other items. There are is only a finite number of people that you can mentor at any one time. It takes time to teach and support a mentee, so you need to make sure if you are going to mentor that you block out a specific amount of time to make sure that both the mentee and yourself are getting the most out of the arrangement. Mentoring is a two-way street, the mentee has to have the willingness to to engage in the process as much as you need to make sure that you’re not letting the mentee down and putting things off with them.

Mentoring can cover a range of different elements, whether it be relevant to a mentee’s work (practical), career or professional development. The passing of knowledge generally happens face-to-face, I’ve always found that having a mentee close to you in your environment can help a lot as they’ll pick up things on the periphery.

Put your foot down when necessary

Occasionally things go a bit haywire, it’s the old adage of giving someone enough rope. When the time comes you will need to put your foot down. You can do this in many ways, but if you want to do it right, be direct and firm with a hint of empathy and feeling for the situation.

Understand the possible outcomes but there should be no ambiguity when you deliver your message.

Help your team to think of the bigger picture

Enabling your team to think of and see the bigger picture provides a good viewpoint. Even if it’s a limited view of a roadmap, it’s always positive for a team to see where you’re headed.

Additionally, enabling your team to think of the bigger picture as to why you’re doing what you’re doing also can add confidence to them. It’s a matter of providing context

In closing

As a leader, you’re an enabler. It’s your job to be that shit umbrella, to enable people to do their best work and get everything else out of the way. It’s your job to help them to become better.

It’s your job to give a damn.

Hello you. Hello you, this is me.

Hello you. Hello you, this is me.

That’s how we started every phone call, it was our little game, one which we’d done since I was a teenager. We both used to laugh and get confused on who had to say what.

That was my Dad, my best friend.

My best friend passed away on Friday 8th January.

I never imagined what loss would feel like, but have found it is deep and reaches right down in to the pit of your soul.

It’s too soon to even have many words, it’s too soon to think about it, it’s too soon to lose him.

I miss him, my Sister misses him, we’ll always miss him.

Invest in Yourself

A little while ago I sent out the following;

There were many thoughts behind that message and a bit of a personal story (and telling off) which needed expanding on.

I’ve never been good at prioritising myself over other people or things. I’ve got a personality type where I like to help where I can, and when you’re like that you often forget to focus on yourself. This causes one of the biggest challenges. The time that is taken up when you’re off helping other people limits the time you can spend on yourself.

For the past couple of years, I’ve written over and over again that I need to take a step back and almost re-design and re-engineer myself. I knew I had a problem that needed to be fixed and I most definitely knew that the problem was me and that putting it off wouldn’t fix anything.

So, at the beginning of the year I pledged to myself that things would change. Over the past 4 months I’ve invested more in my personal health than ever before. I’m reaping the benefits. I’m fitter, stronger and healthier than I’ve been in 13 years*.

The investment that I’ve made in myself is both a time and financial investment. I dedicate at least an hour per day for personal fitness, I’ve rewired the way my brain thinks about what I eat and invested about £200/month over the past 4 months. I’ve cut back on the silliest of things I used to spend money on to help me on the journey I’m taking to become healthier.

The benefits and results from doing so aren’t just physical, they’re also psychological. Investing in myself has given me time to think, time to learn and most importantly time to become healthier than I ever have been in the past 13 years.

The next steps are to invest in learning again, for too long I’ve put this off because “I didn’t have the time…”, which is a brilliant excuse for just not doing it. I’ve figured that it is down to being afraid of not being able to learn. It’s madness, true madness. To get through it, I sat and watched my two little girls who can pick up an object without having seen it before and start figuring it out in a matter of minutes, they don’t know what it’s like to be afraid and I’m now happy to follow in a 3yr olds footsteps.

Investing in your education doesn’t and shouldn’t stop at school or university. Our industry is so vast that there’s so much to constantly learn even in our respective fields. Over the past few years there have been so many places that have popped up that you can do your learning, whether it’s reading a book or online at places like udemy, treehouse, codecademy or skillshare, there’s a plethora of places to go.

Try It

By picking any of the things above you’ll start on your own journey, whether you want to learn something new or become healthier in body and mind, you can and will if you just start.

Start small, work towards something and enjoy the ride.

*I’m currently writing up a new article describing the changes and how things have changed which will be with you shortly.