The role of design managers in corporate environments

The post I wrote this weekend on software development belief systems in corporate environments has been in my head for quite a while, I just hadn’t been able to write it up until yesterday. As often happens with these things, I noticed three articles in that past 24 hours that tie in really nicely with that post.

The first is Jeff Weiner’s Avoiding the Unintended Consequences of Casual Feedback, which talks about the kind of feedback executives should give to their teams:

Years ago, a former direct report of mine helped bring this point home. While he and his team welcomed my input, he observed that oftentimes what I thought was a take-it-or-leave-it remark would create a massively disruptive fire drill. Up until that moment, I had no idea my opinion was being weighted so heavily.

To address the issue and to ensure that the team and I were on the same page with regard to situations like that, we developed three categories to describe any feedback I provided (either in conversation or via email): One person’s opinion, strong suggestion, or mandate.

Next is Michael Lopp’s Chaotic Beautiful Snowflakes, which talks about the unintended work that managers often create without even knowing it:

The fact is that you significantly underestimate the amount of work that you generated this morning. You could document and communicate the obvious work, but you can’t document all the unexpected side effects of your actions. In a large population of people, it’s close to impossible for an individual to perceive and predict the first order consequences of their well-intentioned actions let alone the bizarre second order effects once those consequences get in the wild.

Finally, there’s John Maeda and Becky Bermont’s Building a Design Culture in an ‘End-Up’ Technology World, which talks about the elements of a good design culture in larger corporations:

In the end, building a great design culture is not the goal in and of itself. What it does is allow a company to recruit great designers, and then supports their ability to build great products, along with their counterparts in product and technology. Start-ups and end-ups may each think that they other has an easier time building or sustaining a design culture, but it takes work at any stage of the game.

All three articles are great companion pieces to what I wrote yesterday. I realized this morning that even though the traffic on yesterday’s post wasn’t huge, it will always be a personal favorite of mine, because it documents a lesson learned from a lot of sweat and frustration. And those are often the best lessons you can teach yourself.