A UX strategy workshop
led by Jared Spool USA, Europe & Australia   ·   2019

Averting an Impending UX Leadership Problem

July 12, 2019

Success has its price.

When organizations realize the value of delivering better-designed products and services, they invest in hiring more user experience professionals. UX teams get larger.

Larger UX teams increase the demand for managers. UX teams produce the best work under managers who understand both effective management and how to grow UX efforts inside the organization.

This combination of managers with solid UX experience and knowledge is hard to come by. Hiring one is extremely difficult in today’s market.

Managers are made, not born.

The alternative to hiring someone new is to promote people already on the team. This has the extra advantage of having managers who already understand how the organization works and the organization’s culture.

However, becoming an effective manager requires a set of not-so-easy skills. Like learning to do anything difficult, this takes time and coaching.

To create effective managers organizations need a set of strategies. That’s why, on the second day of our Creating a UX Strategy Playbook workshop, we focus on strategies specific to growing the capabilities of the team.

First, create Facilitated Leadership opportunities.

The path to creating future UX managers starts with employing several facilitated leadership opportunities for individual contributors. Facilitated leadership is when a team member steps up to lead a group in a working meeting or workshop to move design efforts forward.

There are more than 130 strategies available design leaders choose from in the workshop. In several strategies, we introduce opportunities for team members to learn facilitated leadership skills. These include Institute regular design studios (Strategy #3.08), Institute regular critiques (Strategy #3.07), and Institute a formal discovery phase for every project (Strategy #2.16).

Each of these strategies needs someone to lead the team through the corresponding activities. These activities are great starting points for a strong individual contributor to learn basic leadership skills. The repetitive nature of the activities allows for repeated practice, leading to continual learning and improvement.

Making UX Leadership into a promotion path.

In a more advanced strategy, Establish an intentional Design Leadership track (Strategy #3.36), the organization sends a strong signal that leadership is valuable. Along with growing UX skills, the organization creates incentives to foster better design leadership skills.

A strategy like this one makes mentoring and coaching for leadership more of a priority within the organization. It forces reflection on the culture of leadership that the organization wishes to grow.

Reducing the risk of moving into management.

We fell in love with a strategy we learned from Mike Davidson’s time as the VP of Design at Twitter, Make management positions a lateral move from designer positions (Strategy #3.38). Similar to many organizations, Mike had set up both management and individual contributor promotion paths. Mike’s twist was that, for each level, the managers and the equivalent individual contributors made equal salary and had equal seniority rank.

Many individual contributors tell us they’re fearful to step into a management role because of the possible pay cut if it doesn’t work out. By keeping salary and rank the same inside the team, the risk is mitigated, allowing someone to just try out management. As Mike put it, “It’s just a switch from designing products to designing people.”

Averting the UX leadership problem.

These strategies, right from our Creating a UX Strategy Playbook workshop, are a key for any organization seeking to avoid the problem that comes as a byproduct of successful adoption of UX design and research.

Research shows that teams succeed when they promote from within, instead of hiring outside management help. Smart UX leaders put together a strategy playbook to create solid design management opportunities inside their team.


Creating effective UX management is critical to delivering better-designed products and services. In our 2-day, intensive Creating a UX Strategy Playbook workshop, you and your team will identify compelling strategies for building and developing your team to play an important role throughout the organization.

We offer this workshop in cities all over the world. Visit our website at Playbook.UIE.com for more details. We can also bring it to your organization. Contact us to learn how.

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