How to Have Impact When You’re a Junior at a Big Company
There are many ways to think about the concept of impact. Here are my five guiding principles
As it’s the start of the new quarter, I have been using this time to think about my accomplishments in the past six months of working at Google and how I want to grow from here.
Like in most large organizations, we participate in writing performance reviews. Performance reviews are a way for us to evaluate others but also ourselves. We reflect on our projects, our relationships with peers, and the trajectory of our career. For most people, this is one pathway toward promotion. For others, such as myself, it’s a benchmark to track my progress, strategically put effort in places that others see me growing in, and an opportunity to let others know where I want to grow and how I want to do that.
When I was filling out my evaluation, the following question made me think about what I wanted to do to keep learning and growing:
“How can you have more impact?”
There are so many ways to go about the concept of making impact. I believe it ultimately comes down to getting exposure, putting yourself out there, and developing relationships with your peers to achieve the above two things. I believe designers should seek knowledge on how to effectively do these things in their respective organization and lead by design. Here are a few tips — gleaned from my own experiences—on how to make a bigger impact in your team:
Identifying problems within product requirements and solving them
When you first start out as a designer, you might be under the assumption that work gets handed to you, you figure it out, come up with different ideas, and design the thing, while getting consensus from stakeholders throughout. At first, I was fine with that process, as I was the only designer driving the product’s UX, but I started finding the work redundantly tedious at times and it felt like design was left behind in decision making and feature prioritization (one of my previous article talks about why you shouldn’t just design mocks because it’s considered your job without questioning the decisions that are being made). This realization in a very engineering centric environment made me discover that I couldn’t just accept what was always part of the requirements if it didn’t make sense from the user perspective.
When a situation like that arises, have a conversation with your project manager (PM) or engineering team (Eng) to ask questions with the intention to provide insight from the UX perspective and probe whether the proposed requirements are in fact the best solution. This is an ideal opportunity to also balance out what is needed and understand why that is the case. I have found that being more active in discussing product requirements with the team has helped us make better product decisions and prioritize delivering a more consistent user experience. For more insight on how to do that, read my article about how to create impactful design.
Pinpointing design opportunities and pitching them to your team
One way I can see designers making bigger design contributions — similar to the above point of identifying problems within product requirements — is by looking at the product holistically and then deciding what should happen next. What are the engineers able to work on next, what is feasible, and what is the user goal and business objectives in the next steps of the product? Seeking answers to create projects and responsibilities that go beyond pixel pushing.
Driving the product shouldn’t just be the PM’s job, but a joint effort from product, design, and engineering. If you feel left out in the higher level processes of defining next steps of your product, ask your PM to be more involved and included in those meetings. Your PM also has more access to the product’s users and being informed of those interactions will be valuable in discovering unmet opportunities to create and take on those initiatives with your team.
Another opportunity to drive the design is to create a business case around the design and what you propose should happen next on the design end (read more on why design isn’t enough to drive impact). This is something I want to attempt doing this quarter and something that anyone can do. If you see someone working on something similar to yours, team up and pitch the idea together. My manager recently did this because he saw a bigger opportunity around where the product is now and where it could go. It never hurts to get feedback on ideas and creating a case for them makes it so much more tangible. It can also be a potential catalyst towards influencing direction or shaping the ideal product.
Creating your own priorities and projects
Since we met our deadlines for the last quarter, work has been slowing down. I was under the assumption that I needed to wait for work from my PM and manager, but this isn’t the case at all, especially when it comes to doing something new. Instead of waiting for supervision, I am working with my teammates to start initiatives with other products and thinking about the future of our product. Just because there isn’t a lot of work doesn’t mean that you should wait to be activated.
When thinking about your work, think about where you want to go with the version two, three, four. Work with your peers to prioritize next steps if you are concerned about the design, or come up with next steps and present it to your team. If it’s a really new thing, make a presentation or if it’s new features to prioritize, say “I think these three things are important and I would like to work on it.”
At Google, I am encouraged to proactively suggest areas of future work for myself and my peers. This is something I haven’t been doing, but a valuable point in continuing to grow and challenge myself. I believe this tip also applies to other designers, especially designers in startups or smaller companies, where it may be easier to get exposure and impact for your efforts.
Collaborating more closely with PMs and Eng
This is something I can do better, but I have made efforts to work more closely with the engineering team by dedicating a few days of the week to work in-person with them — as I am based in a different office and typically work remotely — this has improved our working relationship. I feel more integrated with the team and it makes solving problems a lot easier. A problem addressed online can take a few hours, but in person it can take less than five minutes — because there is no barrier to communicate. I relish the moments where we can work in-person because we can do more in a shorter period of time and we can address problems the moment they appear.
Working closely with the PM and engineering team gives you more insight into the decisions that are being made, your decisions have more weight, and people will be inclined to hear what you have to say because you have a presence in their work. Developing closer relationships will allow your work to get surfaced, problems can be solved faster, and everyone feels more comfortable in addressing things to each other.
If you feel like you don’t know what the engineering team is doing, get more transparency by asking your PM to be part of the engineering standup or any other meetings where UX gets affected. You can also ask to combine UX and engineering standups, that way you can work on engineering and UX problems together. Asking to be present in these situations is the first step to be more involved with the product development and knowing how things are being prioritized and why decisions are made. You will be able to make a great impact by helping your peers and knowing the places where UX efforts can be made or combined with engineering. For more best practices on how to collaborate within your product team, read my piece on the product triad.
Course correct team practices
This may be a little uncomfortable to do if you’re someone who doesn’t like confrontation, but from personal experience, I can wholeheartedly say that providing feedback on improving team practices will unblock collaboration in the long run. It will also encourage other teammates to challenge existing practices and improve them if it doesn’t help them or the team.
At one point, I felt like the design of my product was being siloed off from product and engineering. The lack of consensus was causing the design to go through redundant changes, which would have been avoided if there was transparency and everyone knew the requirements that were being decided on.
You can read more about this experience here, but the point is if your work is suffering, it can have an effect on your peer’s work and cause lots of unnecessary problems to happen in the long run, which could have been avoided if everyone agreed on one direction.
That’s a wrap! For more articles on how you can make impact as a new designer, here are some articles to get started:
Taking Ownership As a New Grad Designer at Google
Here are the tips I use to balance my design process with engineering asks—ensuring the design success of a project.
Follow me on Medium to keep yourself updated with the cool things I will be working on at Google in the near future!