my leadership philosophy and approach.
I've been in the field for 15+ years as a product designer, UX researcher, and UX manager. Over the years I've discovered what works and what doesn't in user experience leadership. Here are some of my core UX leadership beliefs and approaches:
UX is a strategic discipline
Effective user experience teams are considered peers to business and engineering leads (and show up as such). They shape product direction, they don't merely execute it. Effective UX practitioners 'own' the features on which they work and drive innovation. They collaborate on design challenges with other disciplines, and they establish both a product vision as well as design standards. They are not wireframe, mock-up, or research factories; they are critical thinkers vital to product development. UX is, ultimately, a strategic discipline. To that end, I assign designers and researchers to features, work with them to set goals for those features, and let them innovate with their product teams. I want them to feel a sense of ownership over every aspect of the experiences they support.
UX leaders should be UX experts
UX leaders, particularly front-line managers, need to have deep experience in UX research and design and can be player-coaches when needed; they can't be generalist managers. This is not to say UX leaders need to be the best researchers or designers on their team; rather, they should have experience in each aspect of UX so that they can help plan projects, hire the right talent, provide coaching and mentoring, and set up good processes to enable UX designers and researchers to be effective. They should be able to provide great design critiques and evaluate study plans; they should be able to share in the work when needed too. (Turns-out managers being expert in the fields they lead tends to be good for morale too.) So whereas I give my teammates autonomy, I support them when needed--be it about UX design advice, research strategy or tactics, data analysis, proposing A/B tests, creating design strategies, working with stakeholders, or evaluating ad creative. I have experience with each area as an individual contributor so I understand the constraints and opportunities people on my teams face.
Employee growth = company growth = everyone's happy
Professional growth is important for people who work for me, but it's also important for the company for whom they work. A thriving team that seeks new skills and advances through the discipline equates to better products (and a better bottom line!). To that end I work hard to track individual team members' career goals and provide opportunities and coaching to meet those goals. I foster a team culture whereby the team learns from one another through mentoring, design critiques, and field trips to other companies. I want people on my team to feel that they are learning new things and advancing in their career as they work on my team, and I challenge myself to ensure it happens.
Hire right & grow team ability with each new hire
One of the most important functions any manager has is hiring the right talent. Accordingly, I've defined a UX recruitment and hiring process that is rigorous, transparent, and effective. But I am also interested in ensuring people find the right team for themselves. A good hiring decision is equally beneficial to the candidate as it is to the company. (I'm so passionate about the topic of hiring that I wrote an article on the subject!)
I'm also careful to document team strengths and opportunities so that I can hire strategically. I want every person I bring aboard to add something new to the team; the organization should become more capable with every new hire--not merely "add new heads" to a team (I hate that phrase for an important craft such as UX).
Facilitate growth through feedback
Designers and researchers need to be great about soliciting and responding to feedback--from customers, stakeholders, and fellow designers. Growth through feedback is not just about growing professionally, it's vital for improving work practice and ultimately the products themselves.
A leader's job is to foster good feedback loops, including direct 1:1 feedback loops but also structures for the team to be self-supporting sources of feedback and support. And leaders should be similarly great at soliciting feedback from their peers and employees, something I actively focus on.
UX teams that aren't great at giving and responding to feedback typically aren't that great ultimately.
Achieve great UX through leadership, not gatekeeping
I am a UX leader, coach, mentor, and adviser. I have a high bar and I'm dedicated to making sure my team produces great work. I view my role as chiefly about building my team's processes, experience and judgment to allow them to innovate for and delight customers without my constant intervention. I provide actionable feedback to improve my team's work but I do not position myself as a final "gate" they must go through for every task (particularly with senior contributors).
Focus on the customer/user but have clear business objectives
Cliché perhaps, but ultimately UX teams must be focused on the customer (or user), either by directly observing them through interviews, usability studies, or field studies--or via other means such as product telemetry data, A/B tests, and other metrics that indicate user interaction. By staying focused on the customer and remaining objective by determining success via clear business goals, user experience teams can chart a rational course toward a particular business outcome. This approach also allows everyone can judge the success of UX efforts. UX teams must know what's working and what is not for customers, and UX practitioners must know how their work can make the customer experience better.
User Experience is an amazing field and some of the most interesting people in corporate America work in it. I'm fortunate to have found a field I'm passionate about.
Learn more about my leadership style from feedback from past team members, managers, and peers.
I'm proud to have leaders advocate for my ability to lead corporate UX teams:
"Jerrod is an exceptional leader in user experience and design. He is at the top of his field in UX knowledge. Jerrod is a firm believer in design influencing product strategy early on and not just meant to be considered at the end of the execution process."
-eCommerce Director, Alaska Airlines
"Jerrod is an exceptional UX professional...He is excellent in front of an executive team and working on high level product direction, but also great hands-on, and everything in between. He is a great team leader & builder and excellent at both managing up and down. I would hire Jerrod again in a heartbeat."
-Head of UX, Qualtrics