Articles · · 2 min read

You're now in charge. What's the plan?

Four key elements to develop a comprehensive, winning plan to lead a design team.

Many of you out there have goals to become a manager, a director, a VP or perhaps even a Chief Design Officer one day. Regardless of your title, at some point you may be the person who is responsible for building, scaling, and developing a design org & getting paid to make that happen.

In this role, you'll be on the hook and will take on personal risk like you've never have before. That’s the gig. You need to understand that doing this job well will require you to pivot.

The majority of designers and leaders are paid to execute someone else’s plan with varying degrees of support. Those who are in these roles are brilliant tacticians & operators. From my perspective, these designers and leaders are the most critical role for successful teams.

But, when you're in charge, you are paid to make the plan for design at the company.

This plan is the strategy for the design org. It's the vision, the priorities, the measures, and steps to take that inform the org model design, recruiting, hiring, development, advocacy, culture, operations, communications… all of it!

And yes, design organizations need a plan!

In this role, you are accountable for sorting out how the design org aims to create, deliver, and capture value differently or better than other functional units at the company. I believe there are four, key elements needed to help you develop a comprehensive, winning plan to do this well.

1. Vision for the Design Org

We hear a lot about Vision. In this case, the vision for the design org is an aspirational yet achievable, illustrative view of what the design org will be focused on. A good vision has three components:

2. Priorities

A good design executive understands that every decision has risks and opportunities. In this role, you'll need key tradeoff decisions that consider:

3. Measured outcomes

In this role, you'll be paid to demonstrate, not state, the effectiveness of the plan. You'll be accountable for the result of the plan, not how much effort or activity is being done. You'll need clearly defined measures and metrics that indicate your priorities are:

4. Execution tactics

Lastly, you'll need to make sure your team is delivering on all of the above. You need tactics that are:

If you step into this role at some point, know that your team will crave this from you. They'll be looking to you to have a plan and they'll know when there is no plan or they have no visibility into the plan.

But there's hope! You can make this pivot and keep your soul by remembering three things.

  1. Invite others to do this work with you: While you’re responsible for getting those things done, you should not do it on your own. If there’s a greater myth to perpetuate, it’s that the single, solitary genius will save us all.
  2. Accept every plan will change: ​Every strategy, plan, design, decision, etc. will change. There is no done.
  3. Make a plan you believe in!: The plan will go sideways in some way. It always goes sideways. When shit goes sideways, you might as well be fighting for something you believe in. Agreeing to a plan you don’t believe in is a fast track to regret and resentment.

You fought hard for the opportunity to make a plan you believe in. Honor yourself!

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