Akshan.readme









October 2021
Work notes

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This is a long-ish document about my management principles & quirks that I share with new team members (or when I join a new team). I’ve taken inspiration from many managers who do this really well (Julie Zhou, Molly White, Rands). You should check them out — each one of them is slightly different because each one of those people are different and have different management styles. That is what makes their manager manuals / user guides really useful. Below is mine.

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Hi there! I’m pleased to have the privilege of being your manager. I’m writing this document to give you a sense of who I am, what I value, how I work, and some of my idiosyncrasies. I want us to have a great working relationship, and I hope that having this document as a reference will accelerate that.

Please note that:

  • This document is not meant as a replacement for actually getting to know each other, which will happen over time as we work, learn and grow together.
  • This document is very much a work in progress and I expect it will remain that way forever as I continue growing and learning about myself.
  • This document is not a strict set of guidelines or expectations for you. I will be flexible in adapting to you, rather than you having to adapt to me. I understand and appreciate that everyone works differently and brings their unique perspective to the table. I’m looking forward to learning about you, what your working preferences are and how you roll.

Let’s dig in.


My principles


Responsibilities and context might change often but principles remain constant for longer and influence how I show up in any given situation.

1. Assume good: I default to assuming good intentions from colleagues unless proven otherwise. When something isn’t working, I will start with the hypothesis that there must be something off with the system (team, strategy, environment, etc.) rather than the people involved.

2. Prototype everything: I believe that prototyping is not just useful for designing products but also for teams, processes, relationships, and careers. The prototyping mindset encourages targeted action and iteration over endless contemplation. I’m always in work-in-progress mode, which means there is always room to learn and get better.

3. Think long-term: I think long-term about the work that we do, and the people that I work with. I hope to create a positive and lasting impact on your career that goes beyond this working relationship. This means that I’ll help you think about how to grow not only within the company but also outside it.


My role as a design manager


A Design Manager’s set of responsibilities at Spotify are clearly outlined (in an internal document), but in this document I want to talk specifically about what you can expect from me.

My goal is to be one of the best managers you’ve ever had.

For me, this means:

Being available for you

Don’t hesitate to reach out to me no matter how busy I might seem. I will do my best to respond as quickly as I can as long as it’s within working hours. I have explicit out of office blocks in my calendar where I’ll be less responsive. There’s a little more on my work schedule towards the end of this document.

Feel free to write me a Slack message or drop a calendar invite, but please do include a brief note on what you’d like to talk about. This helps me be in the best frame of mind to have that conversation with you. I will do the same when I reach out to you. You can reach out to me for almost anything. If I’m unable to support you directly, I’ll do my best to point you to the right person or resource.

Providing as much context as I can so you can do great work

If I do my job well, I should have a slightly more zoomed out view of the work that we do than you will. With that view, I should be able to help you connect the dots and position your work in the context of where we’re headed and the dynamics at play.

When it comes to design & product work, I’ll focus on the why (why are we doing the things we’re doing, why this problem, why this solution, why this way, etc.) and the what (what projects are we taking on, what are the business expectations from design, what direction are we pursuing, etc.), but you’re always going to drive the how (how are we going to address the problem at hand, how should the solution look, feel and work like, etc.). If I get too deep into the how and you need me to back off, please let me know. Very rarely, this might not be possible and I will let you know why (e.g. when the initiatives have too many senior stakeholders involved, we need extra design power and have nobody available, etc.).

Finding the common ground between what you need to grow and what the business needs to succeed

With that added visibility I have, I hope to be able to find or create opportunities that spark your interest, challenge you, and enable you to grow the way you want while being beneficial for the company. We will have regular growth conversations but please do not hesitate to bring up topics related to your career goals and development plan in our 1- 1s on an ongoing basis.

I will advocate for you to the broader design leadership team and cross- functional peers — bringing more visibility to your contribution and impact on our product and community.


Feedback


For all of the above to work, two-way feedback is critical. Feedback is a lot more effective when it is given and received often and in small, specific doses. Every 1-1 with me is an opportunity for you to tell me what’s working well and what’s not. I will do the same. I value transparency to a high degree and believe that people do their best work when they’re aware of most (if not all) of the moving parts at play.

I’ll provide feedback on how I think you’re performing on a continuous basis. My goal is for you to never be unsure about how you're performing. Development talks shouldn’t be a surprise — instead, they should be used for looking into your future and working out how you’re going to get there.

I’d appreciate it if you gave me continuous feedback too. I’m usually proactive about this and will ask for it on a regular basis. If there are topics where you don’t feel comfortable giving me direct feedback, please do share that feedback with my manager so they can relay it to me anonymously.


Other important things I’m here to do


Collaborate laterally: I’ll strive to build strong relationships with my cross functional peers and work with them to set the direction for where we’re headed as a group. I’ll make sure we’re getting what we need from their teams and they’re getting what they need from us.

Scale our team and culture: Given the growth projection of our organisation, I’m sure I will be spending quite a bit of time recruiting. In addition, as we grow and change our org setup, we’ll also need to make sure that our team rituals are working for us and our culture is supportive and nourishing. I know I’ll need your help here and would love to collaborate.

1-1s


We’ll start with 60 minute 1-1s and adapt according to what we feel is required — ideally at the same time every week to keep the cadence. If you need more time, please let me know and I’ll try to make it work.

1-1s are your time. I will almost always have some things to discuss with you, but this is primarily your opportunity to let me know how you're doing, what you need, what you wish could be different, how you feel about the team and the project, what your career goals are, how you’re moving towards them, etc. I encourage you to write down some things throughout the week that you want to chat about since it can sometimes be hard to think of things in the moment.

1-1s are not about project status updates. If you want to give me a short update, that’s fine but I would prefer it if you just sent me a Slack message with the relevant content and artefacts. We can schedule additional time to dig deep into the work. I love to jam on early ideas, flows and design directions. I’m happy to be a sparring partner if you need it. However, I’d prefer to help you facilitate jams with other designers to leverage their skills and expertise.


What gives me energy at work


Passionate colleagues who bring diverse perspectives: I derive a lot of my energy from others — riffing and jamming together. When I’m surrounded by passionate people who’re working towards a shared goal, it motivates me and helps me bring my best self. I’ve learned that talent levels can vary and certain skills are teachable, but it’s harder to cultivate passion and diverse perspectives.

Facilitating sessions that bring people together: I love being intentional about the way in which we design the space and time to unpack problems, formulate insights, create frameworks, or ideate and critique. The act of coming together to make progress towards a shared goal excites me.

Making sense of complexity: I’m at my best creative self when challenges are multi-faceted, ambiguous and need sense-making. It’s like creating cubes out of fog. Turning tons of research material and various points of view into tangible stories and flows that start to hint toward a direction gives me great satisfaction.


I know I can be annoying when


  • I get too excited about ideas and will move into brainstorming and building on top mode with passion when it might not be appropriate or timely. Please let me know when this happens.

  • I don’t clearly communicate my train of thought so it can feel like I’m jumping from one place to another very quickly and without reason. Ask me for clarification.

  • I react mid-sentence with a facial expression or finish someone else’s sentence. I’m working on being a more patient listener. Please call me out if I do this with you.

  • I get overly philosophical about the work we’re doing. I love debates, and being challenged about my beliefs. This evolves my thinking and practice but can be distracting when done too much. Please let me know if I wander too far into the past or the future and you need me to be more grounded in the now.

  • I’m unable to attend many social events. It’s not that I don’t value these rituals but that I have to share childcare with my partner who also has a full time job at a fast growing company.


I tend to get annoyed when


  • People don’t do the things that they’ve said they’ll do. It’s ok if you aren’t able to meet an agreement we made for any reason as long as you give me a heads up in advance.

  • People aren’t taking ownership of their work or expect others to pick up the load for no evident reason.

  • Meetings are poorly facilitated with no clear agenda and goal or it isn’t clear to the participants how they can add value to the meeting.

  • I’m not sure how I’m doing and how you feel about our working relationship. So please give me constant, direct feedback.

  • We aren’t solving the right aspect of the problem at the right time (e.g. jumping to think through visual interface details before having figured out the user flow)


Work schedule


My work schedule is a bit convoluted because I need to balance childcare with my partner. My calendar is typically up to date with my working hours and out of office blocks. The days that I need to take off early (typically every Monday and every other Wednesday), I will work in the evenings. You might see comments, messages, etc. from me in the evenings for this reason but I don’t expect you to respond to me outside of your work hours.

If you email or Slack me outside of working hours, I might not respond to you until the next working day. If there’s something urgent, please reach me on my phone or send a message and make sure to mark it as such so I know it needs my attention promptly.

Speaking of, work-life balance is really important to be productive and feel fulfilled. I encourage you to set your personal boundaries and take time-off to recharge. If for some reason you find this difficult to manage, please let me know and we can figure it out together.


Outside of work


I was born and raised in India. Currently, I live in Munich (Germany) with my wife & our 1.5 year old son. Most of my time outside of work is spent with them.

A few things I love:
  • Long and cozy breakfasts on the weekend with friends
  • Reading sci-fi. My current favorite author is Cixin Liu.
  • Basketball — I follow the NBA quite diligently
  • Podcasts — this is how I get all my news and stay updated on society, culture, tech, politics, etc.
  • Music — I go between genres depending on what I’m doing and who I’m with. A few favorites at the moment are Portico Quartet, Khruangbin, and Chaos in the CBD.


Conclusion


Thank you for reading through this document. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions, or want to discuss any of the above points. If you want to learn about how I think about topics like collaboration, designing in stories, and burnout, an interview with 8px magazine from earlier this year is published here.

I’m very excited to start working together!

P.S. In our next 1:1, remind me to tell you about the hype doc.