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Prompts for design leaders working with product teams

When working with product teams, the job of a design leader is to make quick and accurate assessments about the focus and quality of the work being presented back to them.

You should be able to answer the following questions.

  • Is the team designing the right thing?
  • Is the quality of what they’re designing of a sufficiently high standard?

If not, then it’s your job to challenge and highlight issues with the work or with how the team are working.

Working across multiple teams it’s impossible to understand all of the context of an individual project or product without more time and time is a luxury that you probably don’t have. I always try to have good prompts and ask questions in these situations. Asking questions is always better than trying to have all the answers.

These are some of the most important questions I focus on:

Do the team have a clear goal/direction/problem to solve?
or Are they just building features/doing ‘agile’ delivery. I like to go back to framing the problem if this is an issue.

Are the team doing user research in order to learn and challenge their underlying assumptions?
or Are the team adjusting their forward plans/goals/direction based on research with real users? The risk here is research being used to only validate internal decisions or thinking, but without really understanding user needs or challenging the assumptions product decisions are being built around.

Does what the team are doing fit into a wider context?
or What’s the service, and how does this product fit with other products/teams and the wider organisation? The risk here is teams not considering where a user journey really starts and ends, and the wider politics and objectives of the business models they’re operating within.

Do the team have strong enough leadership to deliver a good product?
or If there are issues arising from any of the previous questions, will they be able to make changes and tough decisions? Something I’m always considering as a designer is the balance of the team delivering a product. The skills and the seniority in the team. Adjustments to teams, and the balance of people and skills is always necessary if you want to deliver the best possible products.

Ben Holliday is an experienced design leader, writer and speaker. This is his blog (started in 2005). You can follow all of Ben's blog posts by subscribing to the RSS feed, or follow him on Twitter for more regular updates.