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Priorities, Failure and Follow-Through

I have joined a new company in the past six months and have the great pleasure and opportunity to bring together a few different teams to make up an experience design practice of 40 people tasked with overseeing the UX of all of our company’s digital services. It is precisely the kind of challenge I salivate for so I have been re-energized by this opportunity and incredibly eager and invested in successfully making it happen.

As a manager there are many things I try and do to establish and keep clear goals in mind as well as a simple and direct line of communication across the team. This month we are finally going to make the deeper structural changes needed to integrate this team and organize ourselves so among many other things I sent this email to the team.

I’m posting it here because I thought it could be interesting to see how I try to articulate my intentions for the team and what I’m trying to portray. I’d love to see how other people do this so I thought I’d start. Note that this is not the only time I am expressing these things; I’ve talked about all of them at different times before and will talk about many of them and others again many other times. Learning doesn’t happen on single exposure.

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Priorities should help us make decisions about what to pay attention to and what not to pay attention to. Priorities are not projects. Priorities are not deliverables. Priorities should be criteria for decision-making, the WHYs, not the WHATs. As a rule of thumb, more than two priorities are too much for a person. The larger the criteria set to make a decision, the harder the decision becomes; as a tool to make decisions, priorities should be top-of-mind and not in any way overlapping or conflicting.

Having said that, as we start this new phase with an integrated team I would like us to work off of shared goals so we know where we are all going long-term and have specific priorities on a quarterly basis to help us focus our decisions. For the first quarter this year, this is our team’s priority:

Support the team transition into one unified experience design practice

That’s the only one. As you commit to a project, talk to other people, make decisions and define next steps for things, I want you to ask yourself, is this supporting the team transition into a unified experience design practice?

This includes, being flexible with the ambiguity we will experience during this transition such as work on projects or activities that you haven’t worked on before, work with people you haven’t worked with before, work on areas of our product you are not familiar with, take an active role in ensuring communication is clear, and so on. I am asking you to embrace the opportunities that will be presented and really do what is the best for us as a team; you will be doing these things with many unknowns until we get more established.

See someone struggling with a new thing? Help them.

See someone doing something that is just completely wrong? Try and understand why. And help them.

Having difficulty getting something done or dealing with someone? Ask for help.

Conversely, don’t take the established things for granted. This is the time to question why we have operated in certain ways, done things in a certain fashion and revisit decisions we have made but struggled with since. But please take this seriously; this is not about complaining. This is about identifying an opportunity or a problem and pursuing a resolution. It assumes follow-through. If you identify something and alert someone else of it, follow up and see where it goes. The goal is to improve things for us all not to make problems for others.

Annoyed about how much time you spend creating documents? Question if the level of detail is adequate. Then address that.

Disappointed that a particular process is cumbersome or has no clear path forward? Contact the responsible person and present the problem/opportunity. Take some responsibility for resolving it.

Reached a dead-end for trying to figure out a solution to something? Escalate the problem. Ask for help.

Tried everything and everyone and have no idea what to do next? Come talk to me.

There is room for failure. We can try our best and fail in our execution and still learn from the experience of failing. As long as you use this priority as your compass and reflect on why and how you are making decisions to help with that, I am confident any and all failures will be the best failures we could possibly get. In fact, I welcome your notes about things you are trying, failing or succeeding, and what you’re learning in the process.

Our team’s mission is to ensure the quality of users’ experiences with our services is the best possible. None of us can accomplish this goal individually. We can’t do that without being a team. This is why this is our one and only priority.

I’m delighted to be working with you and having the opportunity to build this team together. Let’s get this year started and make this team the best team you’ve worked with.

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