Managing UX teams can be the adventure of your life, but from time to time it might feel like you are surrounded by an angry mob trying to lynch you. (Most of the time no lynching will take place, tough.)
I have distilled my UX management experience into 7 quick win tips you can start using right now to improve your life and make your teams happy.
UX Sprints: Deliver something awesome in 10 days
Try to organize the project into basic units lasting only a few weeks, ideally 10 working days. I prefer to call them sprints, a term borrowed from Scrum software development framework. Start each sprint with a planning meeting, where the main question should be: How can we improve the user experience of the project at hand in this sprint? As in the next 10 days.
Keep an UX backlog and keep it short
An UX backlog will help you finding what to do in each sprint. “UX backlog” is fancy name for an ordered list of stuff to do, but still a very helpful tool, unless it grows out of control. A long list is intimidating and leads to frustration. If something is low or medium priority don’t add it to the backlog. In most cases you will have quite a few “insanely high priority” stuff to do anyways.
Restrict the daily team meetings to 17 minutes
Chances are that the sprint planning meeting and the sprint review meeting will take a large part of a working day, but try to keep the daily meetings as short as possible. We know from @37signals that
Meetings are toxic. […] Every minute you avoid spending in a meeting is a minute you can get real work done instead..
I love 17′ stand-up meetings. The best time to organize them is at the start of the working day, to avoid disruption. They should be in the same room and time each day, and they should start even if some team members are missing. Each task force (very small agile team focusing on a single task, it usually has 2 members) should do a quick report about what did they do on the day before the meeting and what they plan to do after the meeting ends. For all this and some quick insights from the UX manager tenish minutes should be enough, so you have 2-7 more minutes to play a quick game. If the taskforces or any team members have problems it should be discussed in detail after the meeting, usually in private.
Defend your team
As an UX manager you are your UX teams first and last line of defense. Corporate bureaucracy by its nature will be intimidating for the UX team members. UX tends to step on toes of most departments in case of IT companies. Visual design, front-end developers, SEO, marketing, content… The main responsibility of the UX manager is to involve those departments, usually through a few key employees in the UX process, but also the team members will have to work closely with members from other departments. And then there are senior managers, directors and other legendary beasts. While you are not expected to pick a fight with all those, if you defend your team it will boost morale and increase productivity and confidence.
Over-promising managers are common even among those who lead search engine optimization teams (with all the facts supplied by Google they get caught quite soon). One might think that it’s a lot easier to get away with over-promising in UX than in software development or SEO. While it is tempting to make stakeholders happy at the very beginning of the UX project, it will destroy your reputation in the long run. I suggest knowing the abilities of your team and if not sure promise a little less, and leave some breathing space for your team. Make sure you don’t systematically under-promise in hope of over-delivering and pose as a hero. Your boss is a wise person (otherwise he or she would have not employed you) so don’t assume you can fool him/her with the over-delivering charade.
Do make your teams think
A good UX manager provides leadership, guidance and coaching, not thinking for his or her team. I have seen some great UX gurus whiter while working under a UX manager with oversized ego. Don’t be that guy. Listen and let them think!
Risk is part of the game if you want to sit in that chair. (James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Generations) The good news is, failures will not have fatal consequences in UX management (most of the time anyways), the bad news is, there are quite a few UX managers who are not willing to take risks. Not even small ones. Investing into a well-equipped UX lab might be beyond the scope of UX management, but trying out a new type of UX deliverable (a 4D UX map for instance) might be a small risks, with huge rewards.
The ultimate challenge of today’s UX managers is to make your team look and feel like a team. Because UX wizards come from a lot of different backgrounds and cultures this can be really daunting. I’m afraid I can’t give you a quick win for this, but I can wish you luck, and promise to write more UX management articles.