Saturday, March 10, 2007

Designers beware: Setting clear goals and expectations.

Lately I’ve found myself having differences of opinion with people about my ideas on how to lead a design team. I want to present a situation to the community and get some feedback on whether or not I am completely off my rocker.

Let’s say you own a small design studio or you lead an in-house team. Let’s say you hire a new designer. A young bright designer. Let’s say that this new designer is assigned a group of tasks that involve learning a new software or mastering a technology which he hasn’t been exposed to before. He’s expressed this openly to you during the selection process.

The standards or final goals are clear in your head. You know exactly what you expect from the designer.

The question is: How do you get this new designer from not knowing quite how to do the work to getting the job done as you want it?

Some might argue that if this designer is as bright as he seems, he should figure it all out on his own. Now, from my point of view, there are three things/issues he should figure out:

- One, how to work the software/new technology.
- Two, the standards the job needs to meet.
- Three, how much time he’s allowed to take to get to the expected level of performance.

Do you agree with me so far?

New set of questions: What would happen if you (the manager) fail to give information to this young designer on one of the three issues. In fact, what would happen if you refuse to provide information on all of them? What would be the odds of this designer meeting your criteria? Would you still expect him to?

Believe it or not, I’ve encountered such a situation recently.

So here’s what I think:

Issue one, yes, software and new technology usually come with manuals, and yes, there are forums on the web where a person can post his questions and get some guidance. Would this be enough?

Would it be reasonable to ask one of the designers on the team (one that knows how to work the technology) to help the young bright designer? Would it be reasonable for you to spend some time with the designer, explaining the basics of the technology? Would this help him reach the performance level quicker? I would say so, wouldn’t you?

Issue two, could the new designer guess what you expect? Let’s say he’s so brave, he went straight to you and asked about it and you ignored him because you thought explaining that would just take too much time. Would you still expect him to know how the job needs to be presented?

Again, would it be reasonable to enlist the help of another designer on the team or to perhaps spend some of your time explaining the standards that need to be met? Would this help the designer present the job according to the expectations? I would say so, wouldn’t you?

Issue three, would the designer be able to guess how long would be a reasonable time to reach the expected level of performance? Would anybody in this situation be? Would it help to inform him clearly when you expect to see results? Would it help him if you gave him a schedule of steps or small goals he needs to reach and their timeframe? I would say so, wouldn’t you?

So by now I’m guessing you’ve gotten my point. You cannot expect someone who’s new on a job to guess how things need to be done. Especially if this young bright designer is also fresh-out-of-college.

You need to give this person the tools, all the tools available, for him to learn as soon as possible. You need to inform the standards that the job has to meet and you need to be clear on deadlines, schedules and expectations. Period.

Let’s avoid the “quick-fix” mentality and let’s start building a real design team. Let’s spend time training our people so that they can be more productive now and in the long run and so that we can deliver better work.

If our schedule is so tight, let’s delegate! Other designers would be more than willing to guide the new guy! Don’t you agree? Wouldn’t you go as far as calling the attitude of the manager I’ve described as “negligent”?

I’d love to receive some comments and know what other people think. Are there people out there who can “guess” how a job needs to be done? Would they be successful if they put more “effort” into it? Am I missing something here?

All the best!

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