This isn’t the first time I’ve thought a lot about what an Agile Design process looks like. We practice it every day at SPARC without any formal definition. As our design team has grown in the past 3 years, we’ve let go of some traditional design practices in favor of ones that more closely match the work we’re doing. Our projects range from UX for software to marketing websites. Each project is slightly different, based on the team and the overall goal. When we call it a process, we’re really just looking at the common practices that make any type of project successful inside our environment.
This past Thursday I was fortunate to hear Bill Taylor of Fast Company speak at the Charleston Chamber of Commerce annual event. There were a lot of components to his talk that sounded like the culture we’ve created Sparc. The phrase that caught my attention was the “Architecture of Participation“. There have been many times that I’ve thought of gathering the right people in a room as being an “architect” of people. My friend Taylor seems to be an expert at that. Or when my developer buddy Josh “architects” a solution by knowing what technologies play well together & essentially get shit done. This type of “architect” means as a leader, you facilitate problem solving by leveraging your team for the solution. That’s why we have a team, right? I think we were already doing this well, but sometimes having a word for it helps bring these quiet practices to light; formalizes them.
What interests me in the Architecture of Participation is how it calls out a leadership style I’m very comfortable. Traditional leadership has relied on the leader to identify & solve a problem on his own, then project the solution onto the people below them. The concept of leadership through participation means that rather than working in a vacuum, I can leverage the smart people around me. In the end, they’re typically the ones implementing the solution – this helps them “own it” as well. The Architecture of Participation simply means I facilitate the conversation & then let people be good at what they are already good at. Coming from a creative background, we (my team) is already skilled at working as a team – nothing new here. Learning & creative process intentionally leverages diverse skillsets, so why not problem solving on a leadership level?
I moved forward w/ a plan this past week to create “advocates” within our design team. Motivated individuals who can help lead the team in one aspect of design. This scales me, and offers the opportunity for these smart people to own a focused element that we need as a team. The advocates focus on aspects such as design quality, user experience or front-end development. Things our team need, but I can’t always facilitate the conversation 100% of the time on.
It’s a great thing to work with talented people. By creating an Architecture of Participation, we enable more creative solution & allow the smart people we work with to scale the team as a whole.
This last year at SPARC has been a pretty trans-formative experience for me. As someone who is use to designing everything, to a role now where I lead others and offer guidance towards how the design should work. It hasn’t been an easy transition – learning to delegate and learning how to improve communication to other designers. Not a new experience, but much more of it that I’d previously had. The other challenge is “what am I creating”. The emphasis on “I”; good designers have to be a little selfish and a little passionate. It’s in our nature and to ignore it is to just be submissive. So now I have 4 other designers who look for me on guidance from priorities to major UI decisions. It’s rewarding in ways that designing isn’t and the learning process is really rewarding. The struggle becomes, what am I creating? What did I do yesterday? Well, many things, but very little I can point at and say “I” did this.
So, yesterday’s article on techcrunch.com was awesome publicity for SPARC and our product(s). It was fun to send out to Mom and tell my friends about. But it also left me introspective about the selflessness of good design and truly what my role in the collaboration means. http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/11/va-goes-green-with-sparc520/