A Product Designer playing an Agile Scrum Master – Experiencing the best of both worlds
Hello to all the designers out there.
I hope the new normal is keeping you creative.
Have you ever imagined yourself being a product designer and a Squad Lead? Well, I did and became one as well.
In this blog, I will share my experience as a product designer and a squad lead who is working with two completely different squads.
How did it happen?
Before joining Freshworks in 2017, I joined my first product-based company as a Senior User Experience Designer.
I was new to the culture and I got introduced to several cross-functional teams. I had to absorb a never-ending stream of knowledge all at once. A few weeks later, as I was just adjusting to my new workplace, I was offered another role. As a Scrum Master.
A Scrum Master is the leader of a Scrum team and is responsible for championing a project, providing guidance to the team, and ensuring all agile practices are followed by team members.
When I dug deep into it, I realized it was an opportunity to take my design skills to the next level.
Key Learnings from the role
At the time, my role was limited to the UX team as the team structure was horizontal. Meaning, we did not have a common sprint for design and development. Instead, we had our own design sprints that were one sprint ahead of the development sprint so that we could deliver designs before the work began on product development.
“I turned myself into a problem solver”
I quickly got in touch with my team members one-on-one to understand their problems and expectations. I learned that my team and I were under a giant rock that was very difficult to lift at the time.
- My team members were having a tough time as there were delays in receiving requirements, which led to further delays in design deliverables. That, in turn, affected the overall product development and releases.
- The stories and requirements were not as clear for designers as they would be for the developers.
I was clueless and did not know how to solve their problems and that’s when my second responsibility came in.
“I became my team’s change agent”
I needed to change the existing scenario into one where my team, project managers, and developers could align and work toward a common product goal with dependencies as tiny as a dot.
At this point, I started reaching out to other scrum masters within the organization to understand if their teams had similar problems and if so, how they solved it. The knowledge I gained from them was enormous. I was able to connect all the dots and understand what steps I needed to take to solve my team’s problems.
I also understood how I could leverage my design role and help project managers and dev teams understand the value of UX.
I organized a session with my team and shared the knowledge I had gained and helped them put forward their problems in the most transparent way possible and showed them the amount of quality our products are missing with the way things were functioning.
- I defined new sprint goals for my team.
- Helped them understand what sprint commitment means for us, the dev teams, and the PMs.
- I clearly set expectations for the PM and dev teams through individual team members.
- I frequently observed the burndown chart and reached the respective designer in case of concerns or a need for better clarity.
- I asked my team to connect with their PMs and dev teams and verify if they could follow the new sprint process.
- I took constant feedback from my team to further improve our sprint process.
“I was now a facilitator to my team”
I facilitated all the information/help that my team needed whenever they used to get blocked or needed suggestions to get to the next steps.
From this stage, I never looked back and continued to improve myself as a Scrum Master. I’m now a Squad Lead at Freshworks. Taking care of my squad and enabling them to perform better with the help of my PM to achieve new sprint goals.
How well does this arrangement fit in an agile environment
At several organizations, the management considers a Squad Lead role as too technical to be handled by a designer. That’s because Squad Leads often get into technical discussions to help their teammates overcome complex impediments.
I realized being a Squad Lead is not technical after all. I felt that I could take care of things.
I can explain this with a simple comparison.
Squad Leads collaborate with the PM and the Product Designer to plan and orchestrate the execution of the stories with the squad.
Likewise, Product Designers collaborate with the PM and the Squad Lead to
plan and orchestrate the execution of the stories with the squad.
I believe that the responsibilities of a product designer and a squad lead overlap at some point when it comes to the squad’s success.
But there is always friction between the Product Scope, UX, and Development. Some of us think this friction is inevitable as each of us have our own ways of making things work.
As a squad lead, you are responsible for your squad’s success and cannot be partial towards your designer. It has to be team work.
To fit this arrangement well, you have to find a balance between both the roles to enable your squad toward success.
How does this arrangement benefit both the designer and the overall squad
For the Designer:
The biggest benefit of this arrangement for a designer is that it will put you one step ahead of everything that happens in the squad.
- Designers as squad leads get to learn and understand the technical activities that other teammates perform, which designers mostly ignore considering those activities to be too technical.
- It will not only provide you extra knowledge but also familiarise you with the constraints early on. As a squad lead, you can challenge the scope of the project.
- You can leverage this role to evangelize the value of design, which you could not achieve as a designer within a squad.
- You enable yourself in all the decisions that the EMs and PMs make for the dev team so that you can analyze how those decisions affect your design deliverables and the overall squad’s success.
- As a designer, you are meant to be a visionary. Design is a prerequisite for dev teams, so as a squad lead you can drive the squad in a better way by directing them towards achieving the envisioned user experience.
- You can gauge the need for extended design support earlier rather than having to wait for the PM/Dev team to ask for it.
For the Squad:
The biggest benefit that I have seen for the rest of the squad is that they get more clarity about what’s in line for them from the design side than just getting an update on existing deliverables.
- The squad asks more design-related questions, which they used to ignore earlier . but now, they are in line with the envisioned user experience.
- They respect the time you need to deliver the designs because they know that as a squad lead you are more responsible for overall sprint commitment.
Taking up this role not only gave me new strength to embrace my UX skills but also opened the doors to a new realm where I’m not only responsible for delivering quality User Experience but also for helping my squad to scale to a higher level.
- Be a problem solver.
- Be your squad’s change agent.
- Be a facilitator to your squad.
- Find the balance between a designer and a squad lead, and take decisions that are needed for your squad’s success.
- Evangelize the value of UX within your squad and vice versa.
- Keep learning.
Stay Hungry, Stay Safe!
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