3 point design leadership action plan for 2017: From F1 Race Driver to Cruise Ship Captain

Over the last 2-ish years, I’ve established and grown the Salesforce Experience Design practice in Europe to 4 regional teams.

And I am struggling.

I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to figure out what my role really is and what is will/should be going forward. So it was with great pleasure I saw the announcement of the “Leading Design” conference, which has profoundly altered the course of my endeavors to figure out a direction forward. A summary of tweets from the event can be found here.

Here is my personal 3 point action plan for 2017:

1. Limit my core responsibilities and hand off those that are not.

Being responsible for the design quality and being responsible for the conditions that allows for design quality are not the same.

Mike Davidson hammered this point home with a small story:

  • When you are a design grad, you’ve just been given the key to your dad’s car.
  • When you are a junior designer, you’ve gotten your own first car.
  • As a mid-weight designer, you are cruising in the convertible.
  • As the senior-most designer, you are a F1 race driver…
  • … but as a design leader, you are suddenly the captain of a cruise ship. You are guiding everybody else, but it is not like you have the hands directly on the steering wheel… this may not be appealing for those who want to be F1 race drivers.

Design leadership is the ultimate design problem – Apply your design skills to design teams, process & culture. Kim Goodwin

In other words, Creative Directors and Heads of Design are two very different leadership roles.

As many of my peers, I currently hold both roles, reducing my effectiveness in both. And I’ve realised my passion is in designing the conditions for designers to be successful and flourish.

2. A compelling and consistent message to executives and other business partners.

There is a common theme of Designers not being able to speak business, but different levels of non-designer colleagues need different level of messages that resonates with their day-to-day world including:

The CEO wasn’t in the room. Farrah Bostic

I need sit down and update my stakeholder mapping and expand it with actual empathy maps… and then I need to get some meetings in the calendar!

3. Organisation, consistency of deliverables, conditions for scale.

This breaks down into two buckets: “Done by me” and “Done by my team”.

Growing up as a minority has a lot of parallels to bring a designer in a tech company. Rochelle King

Done by me

  • A scalable organisational structure for EMEA as a Geo, with each Region’s uniqueness / maturity taken into account.
  • Appoint regional design managers.
  • A hiring plan for scale, strength and flexibility.
  • Get job specs rewritten to encourage more diverse talent pool to apply.
  • Clear packages (estimates and collateral) for different confined design activities.

Done by my team (with me)

  • A solid capability mapping of individuals, regional teams and the geo as a whole.
  • Captured examples of expected deliverables at each step through the design process including what is needed to make different style delivery teams successful in implementation phase.
  • Folder structure! (My personal folder structure is called “desktop”… so I am aware I would be the absolute worst person to define this)

Love to hear your thoughts on this article and please share any learnings you have from building design teams.

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