How to find success when you’re new to a company, project or team

Many projects don’t start with a UX designer or researcher as part of the team – they’re often brought in after a few weeks (or months) into the project lifecycle. The designer jumps in with a neutral ‘trust account’, little context and lots of incoming requests for immediate deliverables. Here are a few tactics to help designers manage the chaos, earn trust and be a valued member of the team.

Make sure there’s a solid project plan

Moving fast turns into a chaotic rush when there’s no project plan in place. If developers are asking you for mock-ups ‘yesterday’ oftentimes the problem is a lack of a plan, and here’s why: with no plan, there’s no tactical visibility into how work gets done across a long period of time. This creates extreme uncertainty in the mind of project leaders and sponsors. No one wants to miss a deadline or be ‘behind’ so whatever is next¬† becomes of heightened importance. People rush to mitigate the overall risk to the project. This is a natural reaction to a plan that lacks clear direction and deadlines.

To fix this, ask to see the project plan and understand if you’re behind, or if the plan is not well-enough elaborated. If the plan needs work, stop what you’re doing and get everyone in a room, face-to-face. The end goal should be to leave the room with solid deadlines and clear understanding from everyone about what is needed next.

Schedule a face-to-face team meeting

It’s shocking just how many concrete decisions can get made by blocking off a few hours to talk face to face. Talking on video chat does not build empathy and team cohesion the same way that being in the same room does.

Take time to learn what stakeholders care about

Schedule 1-on-1 meetings with the major stakeholders. Your goal is to understand what they care about. If you know what keeps them up at night, you’ll be better positioned to do work that matters to them. You’ll also understand how to pitch to them if you have an idea that you think needs to be included in the project.

Don’t ignore requests for mockups

If developers or stakeholders are asking for mockups, don’t ignore these requests. Usually they want workflow diagrams, but they don’t know quite how to ask for them. It’s not their job to figure out, it’s our job to understand what outcome they want and deliver that. Ask what questions they want answered; in what context they would use the visual deliverable.

Over-deliver

If you promise a thing on Friday, then deliver it the Monday before. This kind of a quick win creates trust. It lets the team know that you’ve heard their concerns about timeline. It shows that you’ll employ UX magic to know what they actually need, rather than what they don’t quite know how to ask for.¬† I’ve seen this work wonders to quickly create trust in teams.

Keep an eye on your ‘trust account’

When you start a project, if the team doesn’t know you, they view you as neutral. Your trust account gets filled up by:

  • Caring about team goals
  • Delivering excellent work before your deadline
  • Contributing your voice to discussions
  • Helping celebrate wins

You deplete your trust account by being stand-offish, shirking promises and not being responsive. As designers, we often have big asks of teams and too often we assume that because we’re advocating for the user that our requests carry more weight than they actually do. When we have a trust account that’s positive, then we can make bigger asks of teams, and our earned trust will help that request carry weight.

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