Slowing down to go far

I’ve been thinking a lot about scaling UX. When I joined the CRA UX R&D team in October, we had a decent-sized team of about a dozen (four of us were hired within three months). We’ve more than doubled in size since then.

When you have a small team, you don’t need to spend a lot of time on communications. You know what’s going on and what decisions are made, because you’re part of them. But as the team grows, communications become more important if you want to maintain some standards and consistencies.

You have to spend more time being intentional about documenting and communicating and training — which seems to take away from the work. It may seem quicker to just do it yourself than spend time showing someone else. But with this attitude, you’ll never get off the hamster wheel of too-much-to-do.

And, as a valued friend mentioned in a discussion yesterday, you’re also doing your teammates a disservice. You are depriving them of your knowledge and the opportunity to contribute.

When you’re a high-performing individual contributor, you want to do great work. You want to be trusted, and likely take pride in what you deliver. If someone reaches out for your expertise, you want to help.

But being a successful leader is something different. A few years ago I read the book Multipliers, and something really stuck with me.

A high performer can only contribute a maximum of 100%. But if you can mentor and guide 3 people, even if they are only producing at a level that’s 70% of what you could do on your own, the output is 210%.

So although ego may want us to shine at what we’re good at, for the sake of a team, it can be important to spend the time to help others get up to speed. This means giving others opportunities, so they are on the path to improve. Day one, they may not be able to just step in and take things off your plate, but they are never going to get there if we don’t invest some time to help them ramp up.

I’m writing this as someone who knows they need to do better at this. I definitely have a strong sense of pride in things I feel responsible for, and need to do better in trusting others to deliver something and not feel like I have to review/have my hands on last. But I also think that I AM more cognizant of how valuable documentation and training can be. I’ve worked at quite a few different organizations before, so I’ve had both good and poor on-boarding experiences. I’ve seen the risk of relying on a few key players who hold all the institutional knowledge.

Although it can seem weird to transition from “no documentation — do the work and pivot to the next thing” to a slower pace, its really important. Just like how in weight training your gains are made on your rest/recovery days, you can’t improve if you aren’t giving yourself time to reflect and be intentional about what needs improvement. Trying to track decisions can help illuminate the organizational values, and decrease the chance that the same debates are hashed up again and again.

The old African proverb holds true: if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Sr UX Specialist with Canada Revenue Agency, former web dev and product person. 🔎 Lifelong learner. Unapologetic introvert. Plant-powered marathoner. Cat mom.

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