Waterfall to Agile - What I've learned in my first year as a Product Designer

I’ve learned so much in the past year. I came from being a Front-end Developer at a mid-size company to being part of 30 person product design team at NASDAQ. This has been a new experience for me since I never worked in a big team before. Gone are the days of being a hero designer/developer where everything I did was praised and liked by everyone. Now I’m surrounded by some of the smartest people in the UX community. I would like share with you what I’ve learned in the past year:

1. Use your time wisely

With time split between meetings, design studios, research and collaborating with others…there is little time left for executing desing concepts. The best way to handle this is to breakdown a project into small, manageable task that have daily milestones. I’ve also learned that it’s okay to say NO once awhile.

2. Collaborate frequently and often

Product Design is a team sport. Being able to work well with fellow designers, product owners and developers is encourage because it helps with the iteration process and group dynamic.

3. Present WIP (Work in Progress)

This one was hard for me to get used to. Coming from a waterfall-model environment, I never presented work that wasn’t polished and put together. Now as a product designer, showing work in progress is encouraged because others can give you valuable feedback that can take your concept to the next level. It can also save you time if you’re heading down wrong direction.

4. Substance over Beauty

Product Design is more about executing an idea rather than creating beautiful interfaces. Most often than not, your design concepts might get scrapped after a sprint and all the hard work was for nothing.

5. Explain your design decision

Gone are the days of being a designer who creates stuff because it “Looks good”. Now you have to discuss and explain your decisions to your team. Check out the article Better User Experience With Storytelling from Smashing Magazine to read about the relationship between user experience and storytelling.

6. Leverage your team’s skill

Sometimes you will be in a position where you want to build something but lack the knowledge to do so. Earlier in my career I’ll spend substantial amount of time learning how to do something. But now since I’m on a stricter deadline, It’s more efficient to ask my fellow designers who are more skilled than me for some help. This approach saved me a lot of time and is a great way to learn a new skill.

Some of these made me feel very uncomfortable at first. But with anything, it takes time, practice and determination to get comfortable in a new environment and position. As I get comfortable working in cross-functioning teams, the better I understand the process of building a product.

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