Archive for January, 2013

My Transition to UX Director: Writing Appraisals for People I Hardly Know

I like to write. I’ve never been one who suffered with writer’s block. But that’s usually when I am writing about Design, methodology, or strategy. But now I have to write appraisals for people I hardly know. I met most of them in October. It’s a little scary because I want to be fair to them all.

To their credit, they all submitted self-appraisals, and I have a write-up on each one from the former manager. I”m also glad that I asked them each to give me at least 2 names of other people who could provide input. They did, and almost every person who was asked to provide input has done so- and often with many details. Not just “She’s a good sport” kind of input. Input from these other people has really helped me gain perspective on my team, and I know that it will help me write more well-informed reviews.

I’ll admit, at first I wans’t going to ask for this additoinal input from other people because, well, because it’s just a lot of work. It’s been worth every second of the effort because I have not only simple review input, but insight into what makes some of of my team members tick – where their passions are, when they went the extra mile, from the perspective of engineering, product management and documentation.

I hope I can do my team justice in their reviews.


Managing Your Manager when You Are the Director

YAY! This Monday, I had a new hire first-line manager start – she will manage 10 of my 14 staff, the others will report to me. So that means I have only 5 direct reports (including the new manager). A big difference from managing 14 people directly!

So far, so great. It felt great to offload a bunch of simple paperwork things – like the bi-weekly timecard (online) approvals, and the writing of quarterly goals, etc. I am really looking forward to being able to focus on UX Strategy for 2013. This is also the first time I have ever managed a manager . So I am sure that I will make lots of mistakes, and probably learn a lot from “My manager”.


Should Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) be in the UX group?

For most of my design career, I did not have a subject matter expert (SME) to work with when I was  designing a user experience.  Of course, I have limited experience – at Digital Equipment Corporatoiio FTP Software, Iris/Lotus/IBM. None of those companies had subject matter experts to help with the design. For example, when working on DEC Fortran, I didn’t have Fortran progammers hanging around to tell me how they worked. When I worked at Iris/Lotus/IBM I worked mainly on end-user software like instant messaging and email, so I didn’t need a subject matter expert.

However, in my 2 most recent jobs, there have been subject matter experts. At SolidWorks, there were “Product definition specialists” who really understood 3D CAD modeling. They reported into another department -still in engineering (I think), but not officially part of a UX Group. At EMC, in my UXD group, I have 3 “use case architects”, who are basically subject matter experts. They have been network and storage administrators. They have provisioned and diagnosed, etc.

These people are instrumental in helping the interaction desginers do their jobs – because the interaction designers (While they might have access to a test server running  the various management software) do not actually manage, monitor, or run any data centers.

While I am glad to have them – I wonder if the best place to put them is in a UX group. Maybe it is. I am certainly NOT trying to get rid of them. These people help not only the interaction designers, but also Product management, marketing, and quality assurance.  Is there a best place to put such SME’s so that  they have the best possible influence on the development of a product? What is your experience?


Transition to UX Director: is NO management continuity a blessing or curse?

When I accepted my new job, I knew that the previous director had chosen to go to Red Hat, and that the one manager who would be reporting to me planned to retire soon. Well, she retired the Friday before I started.

I told myself that it was a great opportunity to create a great new management team. I did, however, also entertain the thought that I might be crazy for taking the job and not having any kind of management continuity.

I started the job with a whole bunch of direct reports, and no other manager to give me his or her opinions on how to handle any management situation (or to approve time cards, quarterly goals, or expense reports). In my first 90 days, I spent a lot of time reviewing and approving “paperwork”….

So far, from my perspective, it has not been too bad, and I am cautiously optimistic, because we interviewed several great candidates, and  on Monday, Jan. 7, I have  a new first-line manager starting.  We’ll see if the “no management continuity” turns out to be a blessing or a curse. Or maybe it’s won’t matter at all. When I started, I feared that the staff would be really nervous, with all this change happening. To their credit, every single person was very helpful and carried on with their work.

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Director of User Experience: My First 90 Days

I started a new job as director of user experience design as a large high-tech firm last October, and I’ve decided to blog about my experiences going from being an individual contributor for about 14 years, to a director of user experience design (UXD).

I read several of the “First 90 days” books, like this one “Your First 100 Days in a New Executive Job: Powerful First Steps on the Path to Greatness” and “The New Leader’s Action Plan”  and  got both excited and intimidated. In the end, if was Peter Drucker who probably gave me the most practical advice in his “Effective Executive” book ( advice about what NEEDS to be done, and about what is right for the enterprise. (Much of the writing and the examples are dated, but the basic advice is still sound. )

Having read the  first few books before I started the new job, I had made plans about how I wanted the team to leverage social media more, build a database of usability participants, things like that. Those things still need to be done,  but thanks to Drucker’s advice, I realized that I need to table those plans for a bit while the team works on our user experience guidelines.  Sure, we can do more than one thing at a time, but I think I came dangerously close to overloading my team with stuff that I wanted to accomplish rather than helping them the things that NEEDED to be done.

I”m still very excited about the job, and I’m willing to work nights and weekends because I’m having fun learning new things, and of course, I want to make a good impression.  I just need to remember that  I shouldn’t expect that of the team, too.

My boss and my team tell me I’m off to a pretty good start. I’m looking for other directors of UXD at other companies  to mentor me (If you ARE one, feel free to volunteer!).  I also want to thank all the people who have already helped me a great deal – particularly  Tom Spine (who taught me a great deal about being a good manager), and Chris Samoiloff and Michael D Harris, who have  allowed me to pepper them with questions about style guides and toolkits. 

I finished my first 90 days. Yes, I have action plans,and  I have taken responsibility for decisions, but perhaps most important of all, I”ve started to become a member of a great UXD community at EMC.