How the difference between good & bad management affects your team’s performance
When you look back on your career, you can likely identify both good and bad managers in your professional history. More importantly, you can remember how their leadership made you feel.
The good managers inspired you to do your best work and supported you in doing so. Their feedback was constructive and fair—and based on years of industry experience. They encouraged the entire team to contribute ideas and ensured everyone was heard.
The bad managers were the opposite. They micromanaged and nitpicked your work—refusing to acknowledge the good and only focusing on the bad. They made working a nightmare for you and your teammates, and discouraged you from giving it your all.
These are sentiments echoed by employees around the globe. The difference between a good manager and a bad one has a huge impact on a team—just consider these stats:
- Two in five employees have quit because of a bad manager
- 38% said they have stayed in a job longer than they intended because of a good manager
- 53% of those considering leaving their jobs say that they were looking to change roles because of their manager
The business cost of bad management is clear—and UX managers need to consider the impact they have on the UX team. Nurturing a team for success is key for a driven, successful UX team.
The different responsibilities of a UX manager
A UX manager is a team leader, and they have many responsibilities within an organization. These UX manager responsibilities include:
- Provide guidance: an individual in a UX management position is there because they have the experience and knowledge to support and manage a team. Other UX researchers and designers turn to the UX manager in times of doubt—both when it comes to UX decisions and day-to-day workplace guidance.
- Delegate tasks: another key responsibility for UX managers is to find the best person for a job—to delegate tasks effectively and efficiently to team members. This shouldn’t be done randomly, it should be a considered effort to identify strengths in your team and delegate tasks accordingly.
- Communicate with other leaders: the UX manager is the person responsible for communicating with other team leaders across the organization. This involves sharing UX team developments, as well as identifying opportunities in updates from other teams.
- Advocate for UX in a company: UX managers are also responsible for advocating for UX and building a design-first organization. Although a user-centric approach to doing business is becoming more common, many organizations still don’t fully appreciate the potential UX has to positively impact the bottom line.
- Create UX team culture: ensuring the UX team are comfortable and happy at work is another key responsibility of a UX manager, and a positive UX team culture is a must. Managing team design skills and ensuring all team members feel supported and engaged leads to better designs and a stronger team.
“As a UX team manager, your fundamental role is to empower the team and enable them to focus on their work by removing as many blockers as possible.”
UX management styles: tactical or strategic
The Interaction Design Foundation outlines two main types of UX management: tactical and strategic. Here’s the difference.
Tactical UX management involves adopting a front-line role in your team—where you work directly with the UX researchers and designers on your team to get the job done. Your focus is the day-to-day—ensuring your team has everything they need to create problem-solving designs.
Strategic UX management looks at the bigger picture—the long-term plans and how UX fits into them. You advocate for UX team input across departments and look at how the UX process could be better in the organization.
There’s room for both in every organization—and modern UX managers will likely see themselves taking on different tasks each day.
Skills for effective team management: balancing strategy and humanity
Here’s a snippet taken from People Management’s research into the impact of good and bad management in the workplace:
“The most common attributes of good managers according to employees include treating people well, listening to others, and showing respect to all staff members, all cited by 47% of respondents.”
This highlights the importance of humanity in being a UX team leader—respecting the UX team and listening to other team members, regardless of title or position. The study also identified what not to do as a UX manager.
“The most commonly cited attribute of a bad manager was a failure to listen, cited by 49% of respondents. This was followed by being unapproachable (47%); treating members of the team differently (43%); and shouting at the team (42%).”
This info gives us a pretty clear list of major dos and don’ts when it comes to effective team management.
When it comes to the people side of management, it appears that team members look for managers to, simply, be decent human beings.
Of course, there’s more to management than humanity—UX managers also need to ensure the job gets done. Here are some strategic skills UX managers need:
- Leadership: being a team leader isn’t for everyone—UX managers need to inspire the team, delegate effectively, and manage team members and projects smoothly.
- Strategic thinking: UX managers should find and develop unique opportunities to create value for the organization.
- Problem-solving: another key skill a UX manager needs is the ability to identify and solve problems in an organization.
- Communication: communication is essential for UX team leadership, both communicating up—getting buy-in from stakeholders—and down—delegating and working with the team to hit goals.
- Hiring: the role of hiring new UX professionals often falls to the UX leader, at least in part. Knowing what to look out for in UX designer candidates is key for building and effective team.
It’s a mix of hard and soft skills is what makes a good UX team manager.
Best practices for managing UX teams
We’ve just been through the skills a UX manager needs, but what about the actual process of managing a UX team. What best practices should UX leaders keep in mind?
Create a user-centered culture
UX leaders should always focus on establishing a user-centered culture across the organization. This starts at a team level, but slowly winning support from the rest of the organization enables the UX team to create impact across departments.
“You need to have a clear vision in mind for what you're shipping and for whom. Always remember who your customer is and what they're trying to achieve.”
Establish clear design processes
A replicable, documented design process is a must when managing UX design teams. Designers likely have their own processes, but the team needs to operate effectively and efficiently. Otherwise, you risk working aimlessly towards goals with no real structure or process—a bad plan according to Scott from Churnkey.
“Nothing can send UX design teams into chaos like endless, aimless iteration.”
Effectively measure the success of initiatives
Another best practice for UX management is to track and measure the success of initiatives. This enables you to report on UX team performance and identify areas for improvement. Measuring the success of UX designs depends on what they’re for. For example, a UX-focused redesign of the sign up page will hopefully increase signups.
Challenges and opportunities in UX management
The different functions and responsibilities of a UX manager provide both design challenges and opportunities—often at the same time. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Managing cross-functional teams
UX managers might find themselves needing to manage cross-functional teams—those that include members from different teams using their expertise to achieve a common goal. This is challenging for any manager, but it also provides some key opportunities.
Balancing user needs with business goals
UX teams have goals to hit, and those goals are typically in line with overall business goals. Balancing user needs with these business goals can be tricky, and sometimes it’s not possible to achieve both. UX leaders must find the best way of meeting user needs while also achieving business goals.
Staying up-to-date with UX trends
Another key aspect of UX management is keeping up-to-date with UX design trends. This ensures the UX team are using the most innovative approaches to UX, and creating modern designs.
A day in the life of a UX manager
To get a better look at the day in the life of a UX manager, we spoke to the people doing it.
A day in the life of James Nesbitt, Founder at Myth Digital
“Day-to-day, the role is split between supporting and mentoring the team, some hands-on work, and advocating for the team within the wider company.
At Myth, this last part is less critical as it is set up with UX design as a core part of the business, but from previous experience advocating and promoting what the UX team can do is often something that can take up a large amount of a UX manager's role.”
James’ day-to-day as a UX manager touches on the different responsibilities we’ve discussed, and is a great example of the versatile nature of the role of a UX manager.
This approach and experience are what helped James found and run Myth Digital, a Belfast-based UX/UI design and development company.
A day in the life of Scott Hurff, Co-Founder and CPO at Churnkey
“It's a blend of customer conversations, check-ins with product and engineering, and asking my team if they've hit any roadblocks. Often, we'll jump into Figma together or step through customer journeys to identify snags or areas that could be improved.
At the start of every week, we come together as a team to review last week's work, discuss what's on this week's agenda, and give feedback to each other.”
Scott’s day-to-day takes a more tactical approach to UX management—getting stuck into the research and tasks of UX designers on the team. Scott’s weekly design meetings focus on communication and collaboration, two key skills of a UX manager.
This is no surprise considering Scott’s approach to UX management:“I've found that a ‘servant leadership’ approach works the best for design and UX teams. Do whatever you can to support them. Clear the path of anything that can be a distraction or debilitating. Encourage them to learn new tools and skills, and to get outside of their comfort zone. And above all, prioritize empathy—both within the team and outside of it.”
How to take your management skills to the next level
As we’ve demonstrated with this first chapter, and as you’ll continue to learn throughout this guide—the role of a UX manager is far from simple.
It requires soft and hard skills, different approaches to management at different times, and a constant awareness of what’s going on in the UX industry. It also involves ensuring your team is confident in their ability to achieve UX team goals—and finding ways to help them continually improve and grow.
One way UX managers can support the UX team is by helping them improve their quality designer skills. Uxcel for Teams is a simple and effective way to do just that—with courses, challenges, assessments, and more.
Find out how you can improve your UX team with Uxcel with a 14-day free trial — sign up today to get started.