Feb 25, 2021 | by Budi Tanrim
Product design leadership — Create changes
Design manager is a misleading title.
Many people think it is about managing, while in reality, design managers are doing two things: managing and leading. Understanding the distinction between leadership and management will be essential if you’re interested in a design manager’s role. For example, it can be useful when a manager wants to plan for their self-improvement.
So, how do they differ?
I subscribe to how John P. Kotter put it. Management is about coping with complexity, and leadership is about coping with change. Management is about managing complexity by planning, budgeting, and organizing—establishing steps and ways to achieve a specific objective. In contrast, leadership setting a direction by developing long-term vision and strategies.
Management aims the predictability by nature, while leadership focus is to create changes.
But why change at all? The reason for that is because companies compete with each other. Every company is trying to be different from others, so they can have a unique value proposition. Also, considering how fast the technologies evolve, international competition or new customer insights while in the product discovery. That said, changes are necessary if the company wants to survive and stay relevant in the market.
More changes require more leadership.
Creating changes involves observing the current situation, projecting the ideal future, and analyzing the gap.
For example, in my previous role, we were setting a new direction because we observed an ineffective working way that doesn’t produce a good outcome. I observed many teams started their project with a requirement—that only God knows how they came up with that requirement—which has no clear problem or even goal. The requirement is basically saying, Let’s build this feature and see what happens.
Then, we pictured how an ideal team would work—collaborate from the early phase, asking questions, and make decisions together. Because we knew from experience and a few studies show that a diverse and collaborative team will produce a better outcome.
We then analyze the gap and set up some strategies (not plan) on how to get there. The strategy was to put the human-centered practice. It’s not a plan, but it’s a high-level approach. A plan would look like this: let’s do a pilot team, hold a Bootcamp, and so on.
Kotter, J. P. (2001), What Leaders Really Do. Harvard Business Review.