UX Management: 7 Steps to Set up an Ongoing Training Process
A while ago, I took a contract role for a startup company. The design lead sat with me for our first meeting to discuss about the current state of the team and his expectations.
Being new to the team, I hoped to be enlightened by his vision for the design team. But the reality was a bit different. It turns out his expectations were that designers and developers were to drive and inspire the leadership. His beliefs were that senior designers and developers should have the experience to guide the leadership into setting up goals and success metrics.
The outcome was that, in the months after I started, the motivation level of the team plummeted, and the delivery suffered.
Why did that happen? The design manager’s productivity is strongly tied to his team’s productivity, and the productivity of the team isn’t always directly proportional to the seniority and the experience of its designers. Hiring the best talent, the best researchers and designers is not enough to deliver innovative products through a systematic approach.
The building blocks of good UX management
In an organization new to implementing UX design processes, having great designers on board definitely helps, but they just serve as the foundation that a good UX manager needs to build on.
The next step that a design manager needs to take is to empower the design team with decision making. Mike Monteiro, in his book “You’re my favorite client,” stresses the importance of the authority a manager needs to give their team of designers. By trusting the team to make the right decisions, motivation levels increase as individuals want to do their jobs well and prove themselves worthy of that trust.
Another important factor that weighs a lot on the success of a design team is to define a base for performance management. In this sense, good UX managers need to define what design success looks like, they need to set up expectations straight from the beginning in order to get the maximum potential from their team.
Knowing what success looks like, the team will be able to adjust course if the metrics aren’t achieved. Otherwise, by constantly fighting a never ending battle, they will feel discouraged and demotivated to try and achieve invisible goals.
Hiring the best designers, empowering them to make decisions and setting up clear expectations are the first actions t a UX manager needs to take in order to lead a successful team.
But the work doesn’t stop here. The manager has to build a strong vision for the UX team and he needs to transform it into a shared cause.
Involving the team to achieve this shared vision and helping the team deliver the best work they are capable of, needs clear guidance from the manager, it can’t be externalized.
The manager will need to increase the team’s capabilities as a whole in order to go that extra mile and deliver great design.
How can a manager transform his team to execute at their highest potential?
Through iterative training, an ongoing process that improves the capabilities of the team.
Training keeps people aligned with the same goals and engages them in supporting the same vision as the design manager. Especially in the UX field, designers have unique and different interpretations of their job and responsibilities.
“There is no investment that you can make that will do more to improve productivity in your company.” ~Ben Horowitz
Due to the various disciplines that UX encompasses, without proper guidance from the manager on what is expected from them, designers will figure out how to complete the tasks as best they can, based on how they delivered at previous companies. This leads to inconsistencies in the design deliverables, performance issues and a lot of “he said, she said.”
That’s why the designer’s job needs to be defined by the UX manager himself. He needs to set clear expectations for the job and reinforce them constantly through an ongoing process. But how can a design manager start?
What are the steps to set up an iterative training process?
1. Make it clear that training is essential.
This is extremely important as through this training, each designer will get the knowledge that he needs to do his job at the highest standard.
2. Create a list of what the designers in the team need to learn, in order to perform better.
The manager can include topics like what it means to work as a UX designer in that company, what processes they follow. He can include topics related to user research, testing and the tools used to provide the design deliverables. These topics can touch on general aspects as well, things like what good UX Design is, defining the company’s objectives and what the manager values in his team.
3. Get feedback from the team on their needs and objectives.
Designers need to see the company invests resources in helping them develop new skills. Through this, personal ambitions will be replaced by the ambition to optimize their work for a greater good, the company’s success. The company that invests in them.
4. Based on the feedback from the team, prioritize items in your list to better suit the “research” findings.
If designers are already familiar with the tools used, this lesson can be pushed to the bottom of the list, and the priority should be set on helping them understand the historical aspects of how the team delivered up until then.
5. Set the curriculum, create the first lesson and present it to the team.
This is the hardest part. Even if the UX manager is hands-on and has been doing the tasks described on a daily basis, teaching it to the team will require a deeper knowledge of the subject and a lot of patience to explain the sometimes tedious particularities of the topic.
6. Create the second lesson only after you finished with the first.
Think about the RITE testing method. With each round of testing, improvements to the concept are being made. The same should happen with UX training in the workplace.
UX training skills are learned over time and training is different from one company to another. So the first presentation won’t be great no matter how experienced the manager is. But the issues and questions that arise from the first delivery should be analysed and worked on, for the next round to go smoother.
7. Teach the lessons to senior designers first and train a couple of instructors that can reinforce the learnings.
Ask experienced designers to help improve the lessons and bring in their personal contribution. This encourages them to invest in the vision and gives them a sense of ownership. With this, the senior designers will be more motivated to reinforce the team’s vision and promote its values across the whole company.
Treat the training process with a lean approach
The process above can be seen through the perspective of the build-measure-learn loop principle of the Lean startup methodology. As this principle helps speed up product development, it can help speed up the training process as well.
Training sessions are also learning cycles due to the continuous evolution of design practices. Therefore, they can be effective only if the UX manager can quickly research the topics, build the first lesson and get feedback as soon as possible to improve the quality of the delivery.
Therefore, the manager’s ability to improve with each new training session will determine the team’s effectiveness, and in the long run, the company’s success.