Now is a good time to multiply your Design team capacity

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This article’s timing is partly due to the major layoff happening worldwide. IT Companies have been building empires. Empires are, by their structure, as fragile as they are big.

So while the world realizes that non-profitable businesses are not so great, it might be a good time to re-think how teams, and more particularly Design teams are built and managed. Liz Wiseman wrote a book back in 2010, explaining how leaders can become multipliers, instead of empire builders or ‘diminishers’.

This culture of multipliers is deeply integrated into Buzzvil’s leadership principles. Being a team lead for over 8 years taught me how to direct my efforts into building a compact, fully optimized team of Designers. You’ll discover that this has both advantages for the team’s performance, but also for each individual inside the team as it promotes a sense of accomplishment and self-responsibility.

Companies, working on similar products have much larger Design teams. Still, we manage to ship everything on time, and our product quality is by all standards, satisfying following our customers' feedback and business/usability metrics.

An entire book could be written on this topic. But for this article, I would like to give an introduction to each lever I could identify to multiply your Design team’s capacity.

Let’s start with some basic requirements:

Before building anything, it is important to know what we can multiply. You should answer this question first: Can I measure my Design team outcomes?

Know what you should multiply: having measurable Design outcomes

As a lead, your responsibilities are tied to the performances of a product (or a team in the case of a function team). To multiply something, you need to know the current value first. By doing this kind of audit, you might realize that some of the current steps of your design process don’t bring much of a difference in the short or long term, from a business or product perspective. If you are familiar with KPIs this step will be easy if not already checked. But if you are not, this might require some serious investment into getting your design outcomes measurable.

Once you know the situation you are in, it is now possible to improve it. This would be different for each team, based on their specific problems. But there are patterns we can define.

As a leader, you might find yourself in one of these 3 situations:

  • You just joined or created a new team and need to build it from the ground up
  • You lead a team for a long time but need to improve the outcomes without any additional headcount
  • You got promoted as the team leader of your team, and now you are facing its KPIs for the first time (congrats!). If you are lucky enough, you might be able to hire someone to take your previous role.

All 3 scenarios will share most patterns, but only the first one will have extra leverage, let’s start with this one: To build a compact team from the ground up, the effort starts with… hiring.

Hire initiative takers and never-ending learners

It is tempting to hire someone with a neat portfolio, and a great resume with significant companies listed in the experience section. While this might also have its importance, I learned that the mindset is primordial. Even at a small startup, if someone showed multiple initiatives to improve something until it was resolved, that someone might have more potential than a candidate who did an internship at a FAANG company. Remember, we are building a different type of team, and our criteria for recruiting are by consequence, different.

Why are these 2 criterions important?

An initiative taker will have the natural will to do more than she/he currently can. And they will enjoy the challenge, not fear it. Again, this isn’t about asking your members to overwork. It’s about working differently and being open to change. As we will see later, these initiatives will have to be led carefully. To sum up here, what we don’t want is to hire someone who did well only in their given assignments. It might sound weird, but in this setup, we need someone who took risks and succeeded in changing something within their organization.

A never-ending learner will be capable to multiply their capacity over time. Their speed of growth will be highly impacted by your capacity to give them the resources and knowledge they need.

From this point, all 3 scenarios can benefit from the followings:

  • Onboard, Coach & Mentor
  • Advocate a long-term dream, tied up with crystal clear, realistic action items
  • Invest in cooperative, systemic protocols

Onboard, Coach & Mentor

Your role as a team lead is important. Things won’t go your way just because you hired the right people. Becoming a multiplier goes through a permanent effort for each of your members to grow in their respective R&Rs. Then beyond. And so on. It’s also about different tasks that you might expect as a lead. You are not focusing on your performances as a Designer anymore but on the ones of your teammates.

Your goal is to “find people’s genius and engage it”.

When a new member joins, and until they leave (hopefully long after) I follow a 3-steps routine: Onboard, coach, and mentor.

Onboarding for conversion

Onboarding is primordial to convert a new talent to our company/team culture and work process. If this step is not taken seriously, you might lose this recently hired talent within a few months. The onboarding needs to be thorough, personal, and motivational. Everything you’ve said during the recruiting process should start to materialize during the onboarding, otherwise, this will sound like a disenchantment to them.

Coaching & Mentoring for multiplication

These 2 roles are very different from each other. But equally important in succeeding in aligning and getting the best of all your team members.

There are plenty of great articles that explain what coaching and mentoring are about and their differences. But allow me to give you a shortcut definition adjusted from ChatGPT:

  • Mentoring is a relationship in which an experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide and support the professional and personal development of another person.
  • Coaching is a professional relationship in which a coach helps an individual or team to improve their performance, reach specific goals, or make changes in their lives.

The difference between the two lies in the scale. While mentoring seeks long-term growth and personal development, coaching is action or goal-oriented and seeks short-term performance improvement.

So these two skills work well together and a leader should take time to wear both caps for each team member.

To sum up, becoming a multiplier means doing less, and empowering others to do more. Use your time differently. Coaching, and mentoring take time but are a worthy investment.

Listen more, and lead with questions for your teammates to answer.

Advocate a long-term dream, tied up with crystal clear, realistic action items

When onboarding and coaching your teammates, it will be key to provide them with the big picture, the dream we are aiming at as well as how we are going to do it, in detail.

The “what” must be tied to your company or product vision

It is your role to align your team’s vision with the company’s. You and your team’s performance need to be aligned with the business directions. So you need to know and discuss with other leads to define what your team should contribute to the organization.

The “how” must be tied with your team’s opportunities and solutions definition

To give your team a chance to make an impact on their own, you’ll need to guide them. Selling the big dream is necessary but not enough. In my experience, this only leads to deception as it is hard to initiate something from the big picture. But if you break down this big dream into tangible action items, then you give everyone a chance to own some of these initiatives. The way you materialize all this is up to you. I would recommend using the Opportunity Solution Tree framework over a workshop, coupled with OKRs.

Leadership styles

Leading an optimized team works best with specific leadership styles. In my experience, oscillating between Democratic and Transformational depending on the phases works great.

Transformational require more coaching and is best to.. well.. initiate change. once things are getting consolidated, we can switch to an autopilot mode with a democratic leadership mode.

Please note that a democratic leadership mode works best only once all your members are onboarded and have enough in-house seniority to be part of the ‘system’.

Invest in cooperative, systemic workflow

Build a Design System

2 years ago I would have answered differently based on the complexity of your product. But today, building a design system with a shared, cooperative UI Kit is too easy to not do it.

Building the UI Kit is easy. A single person could do it, a small team can also succeed with a good cooperation process.

Another article is coming about this particular part, so I won’t stretch on this topic too much. But to put it simply, a design system is before anything an organized set of principles, protocols, and processes to get something done.

Having a UI kit and shared processes is the perfect application of how we can multiply our capacity as a team. The simple fact that we don’t build things twice, that we share UT results, and that these UTs are sometimes made at the component level all validate design decisions that we won’t need to be validated again soon.


Run frequent Design Ops reviews. Make sure that your team works with the best tools. It’s a small investment compared with an additional headcount, so make sure that your team has everything they need to work as efficiently as possible.

Here is a quick checklist:

  • Don’t be cheap with hardware. Provide recent, powerful machines to your designers. 1–2k differences per machine don’t make a huge difference in accountability. But a laggy machine will certainly affect both performance and motivation.
  • Go with Figma for product Design if not everything Design related. We’ve tried them all. Nothing beats Figma in 2022–2023. It is also the best tool to build and maintain a Design system at the moment.
  • If you need to save up money, get rid of Adobe products (I know, Figma is now owned by Adobe, but let’s pretend it’s not). They can be replaced by better, cheaper options (Affinity, Blender,..). We only use 2 licenses lately, simply to be able to deal with customer requests.
  • Invest in UT tools such as UseBerry or Maze. These are huge time savers for User testing. You can do well without it, but if you are getting started and don’t have a UT process in place starting with one of these tools will save up a lot of your time.

Sum up

It is possible to do more with less. Done the right way, this will even increase your team’s satisfaction and retention. Hiring the right people, and empowering them through reachable challenges while giving them all the resources they need, are all levers to building a super-capable and compact team!

Here are a few books you might want to read related to this topic:

I hope this can help a few of you who are facing today’s difficulties as a lead in an IT industry in turmoil.

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