You’ve got three months to make an impression. Here’s how.
So you just took a new design role. Congratulations!
Whether this is your first design job or your fiftieth, the next few months are going to be incredibly exciting and challenging. You’ll be meeting lots of new people and drinking from the firehose of knowledge. It will be a lot of fun but also very overwhelming.
Whenever a new designer joins our team, I tell them:
Your first three months will set the tone for the next three years.
Over the course of your time at a job, you will no doubt learn, grow, and change a lot. But those first three months are a critical period to learn as much as you can (you can only play the “new person” card for so long) and to form that first impression of who you are and how you’ll fit into the team.
While this may sound stressful, it doesn’t have to be. With a little bit of planning, you’ll be able to get up to speed, build relationships, deliver results, and demonstrate that you’re a valuable member of the team.
It’s broken into areas of focus and divided up by month. Each cell contains specific tasks to be completed in that month. The status of each task is tracked using color-coding.
Each new designer works with her manager to make sure the blueprint is specific to her specific role and goals. This ensures the designer and manager are both aligned on expectations. It also helps the designer to feel confident that the work she’s doing at any given time is part of a bigger plan to ensure success.
In those moments where there are a hundred things you could be doing, it’s helpful to have a reminder of what you really should be doing. Taking the time to think through the bigger picture of the knowledge, customer empathy, and relationships you need to build early on in your new job will help you get fully onboard before getting sucked into delivering tactically.
Key themes for designers
When it comes to filling out the New Hire Blueprint, I encourage people to think about their first three months as building the foundation for their future success. What must they learn or accomplish in order to be successful going forward?
There is no single definitive list. In order to be successful, a senior user researcher at a 8,000 person global company will have a different plan from a junior designer at a 20-person startup. However I recommend starting with these four themes:
- Company onboarding
- Building strong relationships
- Building customer empathy and understanding
- Your first project
Let’s dive into each of these.
1. Company onboarding
Many companies offer some sort of new hire training aimed at helping you quickly get up to speed in your new organization. For example, at PlanGrid we have a full week training that covers everything from getting your computer and software set up, to selecting your health insurance, to learning more about our customers and products.
Not every company offers this, so you may need to do a little more work to get up to speed. Ask your manager for resources and training and ask your teammates what they wish they knew when they got started. If you come away having completed all your paperwork, know where the coffee is, and understand how the company talks about itself and its customers, you’re doing well. If you have a good understanding of the company strategy and design’s role in that strategy, you’re doing even better.
2. Building strong relationships
To be successful as a designer, you must have strong, healthy relationships with your teammates, including designers, product managers, engineers, QA, and more.
Plug into existing team mechanics. Ask people on your team to invite you to everything the team is involved in, even if you aren’t sure if you need to be there all the time.
Here are a few examples of where to embed yourself:
- Working team meetings, e.g. daily standup, retrospectives, planning sessions
- Design team meetings and critiques
- Company meetings, events, and all-hands
- Email distribution lists and online chat channels
- Social occasions like lunch or happy hour
Show up, listen, and ask lots of questions. This will give you a better idea of what happens where, who’s involved, and where to focus your time as you’re getting up to speed. It will also communicate that you’re a team player and help people get to know you.
Meet one-on-one with coworkers. A boss once gave me this sage advice:
“Never underestimate the power of breaking bread together.”
Taking someone out for lunch, coffee, or a walk outside works wonders for building strong working relationships.
There are many people you’ll want to meet with, but focus first on the people you’ll work closest with. Then branch out to other teams and departments over time to understand how the broader organization works.
When you have your one-on-one meeting, make the most of your time together by preparing a few topics of conversation ahead of time. This is your chance to make a great first impression, learn more about your teammate, and lay the foundation for your relationship.
Here are a few questions you might ask:
- What’s your career journey, and how did you get to where you are today?
- What’s your role on the team?
- How’s the team doing? What’s going well, and what’s frustrating?
- How have you worked with designers in the past? What did you like or dislike about working with them?
- How do you prefer to work, and what are some potential “triggers” that I should avoid?
- What should I make sure to learn or do over the next few weeks?
Make the conversation two-sided. Consider sharing the following about yourself:
- How you got to where you are today, and why you took this role
- How you’ve worked with [people in their role] in the past, and what you enjoyed about that
- What it’s like to work with you, both the good and the bad
By starting off your relationship from a place of genuine curiosity, sharing, and goodwill, you’ll establish a solid foundation of trust to build upon in the months ahead.
3. Build customer and product knowledge
As a designer, your work is only as good as your knowledge of the customer and the product.
Here are a few suggestions for quickly building your customer and product knowledge:
- Do a heuristic evaluation of the current product. Note down your first impressions, where you got confused, what seems broken, what’s working really well. Then share this with your team and have a discussion. It’s a good way to start building product knowledge hear what your teammates think about the current experience.
- Attend training meant for customers. Many companies offer training for their customers. Ask if you can join the training to learn more about the domain, product, and how it’s explained to users. Say hello and ask lots of questions of customers in attendance.
- Attend your coworkers’ user research sessions. Even if the session isn’t directly related to your team’s projects, this will give you a chance to meet customers and learn about the work that’s currently in-flight. And of course you can run some sessions of your own.
- Visit customers. If your company doesn’t already organize customer site visits, set some up yourself and observe them using your product. Bonus points if you bring your team along.
- Shadow support and sales. Most support and sales reps will be happy to have you shadow them while they talk with customers. This is a great way to learn how your company talks about the value it provides and see first-hand what is exciting or confusing to users.
- Do your own research online. Do some googling, read app reviews, check out the latest PR, or read what people are saying on Twitter. You’ll learn a lot about how your brand is perceived and may even learn a few things that are new to others at the company.
Document all of the interesting and surprising things you learn. Consider sharing your insights with your team — they’ll appreciate you helping them see things through fresh eyes.
4. Your first project
If you’re like most new hires, you’re eager to jump in and start delivering right away. While that ambition is great, think about your first project less as, “design something amazing that completely transforms the user experience,” and more as “learn how to get work done here and put your first few points on the board.”
Getting specific with tasks, mapping them over time, and getting aligned with your manager and team will help. Here’s an example of how you might divide up your first project:
This may be different depending on your role, scope, and how your organization works. Try to be a bit conservative on your estimates because training, one-on-ones, and deepening your product/user knowledge will take up more time than you think.
Make sure to review this with your manager and working team to ensure everyone’s on the same page. You can also review this plan periodically to make sure everything’s on track and adjust if necessary.
Creating your own New Hire Blueprint
Ready to create your own New Hire Blueprint? Get started by copying this sample New Hire Blueprint and customizing to your specific situation.
A few more tips for getting started:
- Talk with your manager about goal setting — do they have a standard new hire goal setting process they prefer? If not, are they open to working with you on using this template?
- Take a pass at filling out your New Hire Blueprint, then run it by your manager and team to make sure you’re all aligned.
- Review your plan regularly to make sure you’re on track and ask others for help where you need it. Check in at least monthly with your manager to give a progress update and ask for feedback.
At your three month anniversary, take some time to reflect. Do you feel like you have a solid understanding of how the company works, your product, and your customers? Did you have a successful first project, and do you have clarity around what’s up next? You can use this to inform future goal setting and areas of focus.
For more about starting your new job off on the right foot, check out “The First 90 Days” by Michael D. Watkins. This book is primarily focused on new managers but has tips that are relevant to anyone taking on a new role.
Design Managers: In a future post, I’ll share how to use the New Hire Blueprint as one of several techniques to set your new hires up for success. Sign up to be notified when it’s available.