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Notes from a few years of leading product design at Pipedrive

November 05, 2019

This post is part of my notes on three years of design leadership at Pipedrive. Also read the other posts in the series:

For a bit over three years, I was leading product design at Pipedrive, first as UX team lead, and most of the time, as Head of Product Design and Research.

Over these years, I got fascinated by the whole peculiar and specialized field of leading design. I took some mental and written notes, but during the course of my full-time engagement, I never had a chance to properly reflect on them and write them down. Before it all vanishes from my head, I figured I’d compile a series of notes about the most salient and interesting aspects of my work during this time, mostly as a reminder to my future self. There’s nothing secret in them, so I figured, why not publish them here, in case anybody else finds them useful.

What does a (product) design lead do?

I found two useful dimensions to analyse and dissect the work.

First, there’s the “surface, structure, strategy and big picture” analysis from the seminal Org Design for Design Orgs book by Peter Merholz and Kristin Skinner. It clearly describes the different zoom levels where product design, and design leader, operates.

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Secondly, there’s “people, process and product”. Not sure if there is a single source for this, or did I mishmash it together from different places. The idea is simple and straightforward, though. As a leader, you are responsible for three facets of the work.

People. Hiring, retention, growth, team culture, everything associated with humans. People are your material. You must cherish, value, grow, nurture, and when necessary, prune.

Process. How do those people produce results? How do they work together? What are the tools and methods, routines, meetings, and communication channels? How do they evolve as the team and people grow?

Product. What is the actual product that gets shipped? What are the design decisions that get made, what guidance are those decisions informed by (blending into Process territory), and how can you contribute as a leader?

I do think this is the priority order, and it reflects how I spent my time - lots in People, a bit on Process, very little (maybe too little) in Product.

Now, an interesting picture emerges when you put the two things into a matrix.

I’d say this is your whole complete roadmap as a product design leader. Just fill the cells. The other chapters in this series explore various aspects of this work.