By way of introduction
For most designers, the underbelly of design work isn’t production or budgets or even project management. Sure, compared to design itself, these elements aren’t glamorous, but they’re understood as necessary. What designers dread is working with other people. They’ll tell you otherwise: they’ll tell you that they love the collaboration and it’s true that nothing beats a great brainstorming...
Pattern: Convert failure to action
Use failed approaches to zero-in on the right path. Some situations look like dead-ends: there’s no apparent place to go from here. Colleagues may contribute to this perspective, seeing the latest round of design as complete failure, for example. They’ll throw up their hands and think there’s no way to get back on track. Use these opportunities to ask questions about what...
Pattern: Frame critiques
Prepare for a critique of your work by identifying issues you’d like feedback on. Make sure your questions are targeted and specific. Make sure you’re not inviting personal attacks by framing your questions in terms of value judgments. Use when: You’re entering a formal feedback session and are concerned that participants may not be able to offer much beyond “I like...
Situation: Wrong scope
You did a lot of work, but worked on the wrong thing. This manifests itself in different ways. If you misunderstood the assignment, you might have done work on the wrong part of the project. You might have prioritized your tasks incorrectly. The effect: You’ve just sunk lots of time into something that’s potentially unusable, impacting the budget and schedule. The challenge: Besides...
Situation: Insufficient progress
You haven’t advanced the project forward sufficiently because you haven’t completed assigned tasks, explored a design problem to the fullest extent, or addressed all the feedback received. The effect: Colleagues will call into question your ability to perform, and lack of progress has a downstream effect on the project budget and schedule. The challenge: Insufficient progress rarely...
Pattern: Logistics specifics
Do not ask open-ended questions about date, time, location or other logistics. When convening a meeting or conference call, be specific about your preferred times. At the very least, you’ll get agreement. At worst, you’ll be asked to change the time. If you don’t define the details, no one else will. You minimize unhealthy conflict when you don’t give people something to...
Pattern: Channel your colleagues' best qualities
When facing a difficult situation, ask yourself “What would X do?” where X is a colleague who brings a unique perspective. By pretending to be one of our colleagues, you can try to take advantage of their strengths in exploring solutions for a difficult challenge. Use when: Your exploration of a situation or challenge hits a roadblock.
Pattern: Help me help you (The Jerry Maguire)
Don’t force people to defend their actions: they’ll be unwilling to change their behaviors if put into a defensive posture. Instead, use words to indicate you’ve noticed a challenge and you’d like to provide resources to help. Use when: Colleagues aren’t contributing as expected and you need to raise performance issues with them. Your responsibilities and...
Pattern: Anticipate agendas, perspectives, and...
Before attending a meeting, think about the participants and what they want to get out of the conversation. Try to anticipate issues that will be top-of-mind for participants. Also consider situations where participants will want to have something to get off their chest. In such situations, anticipate their need and provide room in the meeting schedule for them to vent. But, enforce the plan to...
Self-Awareness: Level of abstraction
Design challenges and solutions operate at multiple levels of abstraction and people deal with abstraction differently. For some of us, the more abstract the better. Other people can’t translate abstract concepts into practicalities. Successful teams have a mix, so that they can address design challenges from a variety of perspectives. At the same time, operating at different levels of...
Pattern: Good cop, bad cop
Use a colleague as “bad cop” to deflect the responsibility of making a big decision. Example: Look, if it were up to me, I’d agree to do this for you, but I’ve got to talk to my project lead to make sure she’s OK with my spending the time on it. Use when: Confronted with a question beyond the scope of your responsibility, or with a dramatic impact on the project.
Know how flexible you are about employing and applying tools, techniques, and methods. Design, like any professional field, has a toolbox broad and deep, with many different approaches. Some designers come from the perspective that there’s one and only one right way of doing design. Others are more flexible. Most fall somewhere in the middle. With complete flexibility, you may be...
Situation: Misrepresentation of expectations
From one conversation to the next, the expectations of some team members change. They might have expected the team to work on certain parts of the design, incorporate certain improvements, or reach a certain goal. The team works diligently on they tasks they think they have only to find that, in the eyes of their colleagues, they focused on the wrong stuff. The effect: This situation embodies...
Situation: Lack of progress
Stakeholders or team members perceive the team’s inability to move the project forward. The team is called upon to defend their progress. The effect: This is the heart of performance conflict. The team is not meeting expectations because they aren’t producing desired outputs in the desired timeframe. In some instances, the lack of movement is real. In others, the stakeholders may have...
Situation: Poorly composed feedback
The team receives feedback that doesn’t clearly articulate the next steps, the desired improvements, or the issues with the current version. Extracting this from colleagues is part of the designer’s responsibility, but incompatibility among team members make make this process unnecessarily cumbersome. The effect: With poorly composed feedback, the design team will be at a loss for how...
Traits for self-awareness have: Description: A short summary of what designers should know or understand about themselves. Discussion: Further exploration of the trait and how it contributes to addressing conflict. Classification: Either intrinsic–a quality inherent to the designer–or extrinsic–a quality inherent to the situation that causes a reaction in the designer.
Patterns have: Description: A short summary of what to do or how to behave. Use When: A list of circumstances in which the pattern would be most useful
Situations have: Description: A short summary of how the situation manifests itself on a project. Effect: The type of conflicts that arise due to the situation. Challenge: The obstacles for addressing the situation.
Situation: Lack of clearly defined inputs
Designers don’t have detailed inputs (requirements, parameters, starting points, constraints, etc.) to help frame the problem and inform the solution. The effect: Some designers will flounder, spinning or churning on design concepts without resting on a single approach. Others will stall entirely, preventing forward movement on the project. Either way, designers face performance issues,...
Situation: Lack of decision-maker
Design decisions drag out because no single person is granted authority to settle disputes about creative direction. The effect: Even a sound strategy cannot automagically validate every design decision. Some design choices require deliberation and a final decision rendered by an authority. This can lead to operational conflict, where people don’t know how to move forward. It can lead to...