For the vast majority of us, new bosses come along every so often. Maybe we move to a new team within a company, or we’re promoted into a new role (yay!) or we hop to another company.
Conversely, our boss may be promoted, choose to add a layer of management within the team or leave the company.
Change is a constant and there’s not much we can do about that. But, we can work to quickly understand the post-change lay of the land.
With a new boss comes a serious shift in our day-to-day routine, requiring a new set of relationship dynamics to navigate, so it’s worth spending time and energy figuring it all out early.
While there’ are a lot of questions that come with any new boss (how do we communicate, what do you expect of me, how will you help me grow?) , here are some specific to my experience leading Design teams.
I like to cut to the chase to understand how my boss looks at my team, her organization, the business and how they all interconnect. Along those lines, here are some of the areas I want to learn early on, either through direct questions or observations. Often following the direct question with long term observations to see if she “walks the walk”.
Does she view UX/design as important in its own right?
This is obviously critical—I want to know if the Design team is expected to make deep contributions and thus will be involved throughout the product definition process, or will we be brought in to make things look good, with no opportunity to drive the business forward.
Does she consider good design to be a competitive advantage, or at least table stakes?
If not, that’s a huge red flag, especially fi the current work is less than impressive. Even in the world of enterprise software, great design can move the needle. I’ve seen it act as a key differentiator on a few key deals over my career.
If good design isn’t important, I’ll be battling low morale, team turnover and constant budget battles, not to mention work that I won’t be nearly as proud of as I’d like.
How does she want us to spend our time and how does she plan to measure the value of our work?
Does she want me to show business value/ROI directly tied to design activities? If if she has any preconceived expectations, how does she think about measuring that return on investment? I want to understand if those expectations are objectively measurable and realistic given the current state of things (and what I think the future will hold).
Where does she draw the line between Design and Product Management?
There isn’t a hard line here—anyone who says there is, sets up the team for a lot of frustration. Instead, I’m looking to see a collaborative approach with some shared understandings that some decisions are firmly in the PM’s realm, while others fall into ours. Everything in-between is a negotiation, and I want to be sure we’re on the same footing when those debates arise.
Does she want Design involved in the Sales process?
A lot of companies assume the work of the Product Design/User Experience team ends with the product rolling into production. Truly successful ones recognize that supporting Marketing and Sales in the customer acquisition process provides a wealth of benefit to all involved.
Designers gain a deeper understanding of prospects and customers, as well as the rough spots of the product and pitches that we wouldn’t see otherwise. Sales and Marketing have a chance to gain a deeper understanding of why something is designed as it is and the opportunity to influence future wins.
Wrapping it up with an eye on the future
I also set a reminder for myself, which pops up after six months, to prompt me to reflect on how I’m feeling. Sometimes I can dismiss it and move ahead, other times, it’s a sign that I need to decide if it’s time for me to move on or push for change.
On a side note, while these questions are critical for leaders of Design teams, every Designer also benefits when asking these questions, even if only to themselves. Pay attention to how your team is positioned within the company and keep that top of mind as you build your career.
- Interviewing – Up, Down & All Around—How I interview people for my team, peers in other teams and my potential boss.
- T-Triple-C— four traits that matter above all else when hiring.