Levelling up the Design Org

Matthew Godfrey
Jul 22 · 6 min read

At Redgate we place a significant emphasis on the growth and development of our employees. This investment in folks’ progression is, I believe, one of the main reasons why we continue to attract and retain some amazing people. Alongside a compelling mission, strong culture and ethics, individual’s are highly motivated where there is a genuine sense that the company cares about and is committed to their growth.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve followed through on that commitment by supporting and better enabling folks in our Engineering Division to understand where, how and what they need to do (and demonstrate) in order to progress as a Designer, Engineer or Product Manager. You can see more details of these pathways, as illustrated in our Progression Framework.

Thanks again to our coaches for their work in consolidating and publishing this framework. 👏

Objective Guidance

From a design perspective, we set out to also provide a granular view of the competencies and behaviours that spanned the full breadth of the Product Design role, as well as those that were more specific, or native to, each level of the design track. Here, the desire was to help clearly delineate what was expected of folks as they move between Junior, Mid-Level, Senior and Lead positions.

Job ladder and levels summary.

As with the wider Progression Framework, the goal here was to provide detailed guidance, illustrating each level, that would support both the individual and their line managers and/or mentors in having healthier, more constructive, more objective development discussions.

We believe, when it comes to progression, that making the subjective more objective leads to the following benefits:

  • Transparency with the individual employee about what’s expected in the role.
  • Managing expectations of peers who are working with designers at different levels.
  • Actionable development plans to close the gap between the next level/position.
  • A level of fairness and equity around salary discussions.
  • Transparency with the wider market about what we expect from applicants.

However, there is a balance between transparency and simplicity when it comes to being informed. Over the past couple of years, we’ve accrued a lot of extraneous documentation (including our Design Rubric) that underpinned the guidance within our Progression Framework; making it harder — at least in some cases — to easily see what distinguishes folks operating at these different levels.

Design Rubric (Excel spreadsheet).

So, much as we do with our products, we felt there was an opportunity here to revisit our needs, evaluate our current materials (the as-is) and iterate towards something we felt would provide a better experience for individual designers, as well as those who manage and lead designers at Redgate.

Delineating Levels

To streamline and simplify the supporting materials that form part of our Design Progression Guide, we set about pulling some of these concepts together into a single overview document, which we’re referring to as our Design Levels Overview.

Design Levels Overview (new!)

This document was put together to allow designers, and those they work with, to compare and contrast the activities of folks who are operating at each level of our individual contributor (IC) track; Junior, Mid-Level, Senior and Lead respectively. Furthermore, we believe the introduction of this overview will:

  • Provide a snapshot of our design levels, reducing the need for designers, managers and mentors to reference multiple supporting documents.
  • Help to delineate the scope of work, the relative emphasis of activities and breadth of responsibilities as between Juniors, Mids, Seniors and Leads.
  • Better articulate the Lead Product Designer (LPD) role and how the scope and emphasis of work they do differs from other Product Design (PD) levels.
  • Illustrate how the PD and LPD roles contribute towards and interface with our leadership structures (Product & Group Leadership Teams).

As well as providing a short description of each level and its focus relative to the wider role, the Design Levels Overview seeks to outline:

  • The scope and impact of each level, relative to our org structure and portfolio.
  • The key accountabilities that are most applicable to each level in our IC track.
  • The artefacts or deliverables typically produced or consumed by folks at each level.
  • The common interfaces or interactions with teams, managers and other designers.
  • Their principal inputs and contributions within our various leadership structures.

It’s worth noting that although the materials and references that comprise this document are largely an aggregation of existing guidance, the final document was explored, drafted and refined working in collaboration with our leads (LPDs) and the wider design team.

Managing Expectations

As mentioned, the intent with our Design Level Overview and the wider Progression Guide is that designers, managers and/or mentors can work together to support and accelerate an individual’s growth. Combined with our Progression Canvas (a Mural template for visualising progression and planning development activities) this allows folks to have structured and focused discussions that orientate around an objective picture of their current trajectory.

Design Progression Canvas (Mural).

So, as an individual, they should be able to use this document to identify where there are gaps between their current level and the next level in their designated track. For example, what is the blend of skills, behaviours and activities that a Junior designer might need to demonstrate to progress to a Mid-Level? Rather than working between several documents, the overview makes it easier, at a glance, to compare one level to the next.

As a manager or mentor, this document can be used to help explore and shape an individual designer’s Personal Development Plan (or PDP); unpacking the associated soft and hard skills they would need to develop and demonstrate to progress. Here they also look to identify any obvious deltas between one level and the next, with a view to translating this into a set of timely and actionable development goals.

And finally, as someone working with a designer, it should be clearer to them what they might expect to see, hear or experience as a result of working with design folks who may be operating across these levels. For example, how does the scope and purview of our Lead Product Designers (LPDs) differ from that of embedded Product Designer (PD)? This helps to better manage expectations and raise awareness of different aspects of the role.

Continuous Improvement

In the spirit of continuous improvement, we plan to work with this document, now it’s out in the wild and continue to learn from our usage and application of these materials; both in terms of the manager or mentor experience and when consumed as an individual designer. This will allow us to understand where and how we might continue to refine and improve these progressions resources over time.

Final thanks to folks like Jason Mesut, Jonny Burch and Peter Boersma who have inspired some of our work and thinking in this space. 👏

Cover image courtesy of vectorjuice via www.freepik.com.