Squad Goals

The Golden Girls
THE GOLDEN GIRLS — Season 2 — Pictured: (l-r) Rue McClanahan as Blanche Devereux, Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo, Bea Arthur as Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak, Betty White as Rose Nylund– Photo by: Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank

A few keys to distributed success

Since becoming the lead of my team I’ve spent a fair bit of time helping my team members  define career growth goals and track their progress. Everyone is different and their growth can obviously take many forms—from skill-building to efficiency to leadership. That said, I have noticed a few patterns and traits that link my team together, helping them be better distributed workers. What are they?

Define the impact of the work before looking for solutions.
Projects should have a pre-defined measure of success. It is imperative to communicate the desired impact with the team before undertaking the work. It is also imperative to follow-through on promises and take responsibility for failures in order to move past problems.

Individual priorities should always align with the larger organization.
If they become misaligned, make it known to the larger group and work to realign them. Designers need to work in concert with the rest of the team or organization. They also need to determine and communicate the importance of lower-level priorities in order to stay ahead of development. Unblocking users, developers, and anyone else at Automattic is our primary objective.

Document your work, elevate blockers, ask developers for input early.
Look for existing answers to your questions, engage stakeholders, and clarify requirements before they slow down a project. Over-communicate to confirm that expectations are shared within the division. No one should have to ask for the status of a project, it should be publicly available and up-to-date. As we say at Automattic, “communication is oxygen”.

Organize the work you’re doing.
It is important to understand how each piece of work fits into the larger application. Every project should help users achieve their goals, add clarity, and improve the user experience in aggregate. Any smaller efforts should be grouped by themes and organized in context to explain  how and why a project will solve the problem.

Own the work from start to finish.
Designers have the authority to conduct research, propose solutions, and oversee the implementation of a feature through to production. Design can be the driver of the work that satisfies our users.

Dictate your own success.
Embodying the goals above will help designers make an impact and grow themselves professionally at Automattic. Proper alignment, self-direction, and good habits are necessary to avoid chaos, micromanagement, and find success in a distributed environment. Set yourself a high bar and reach for it.

Help others succeed.
As designers expand their skillset they become well-positioned to share their knowledge with others in the organization. The lessons we’ve learned can help others skip certain growing pains. Not all designers consider themselves to be “leaders”, but their toolkit lends itself to critical thinking, providing feedback, conducting research and culling insights, and rendering their vision clearly.

By Rick Banister

Designer at Automattic