Get more out of your smartest people by asking them to do less

You’ve got a great designer on your team. Their work is awesome, highly detailed and always right on target. They love to test optimizations to their initial work. You wish you had two more designers just like her.

Well since hiring is hard and cloning is even more difficult, i’ve got a slightly different approach: ask her to provide less fidelity in her designs. To do less testing and optimization. To think about each project for shorter periods of time.

What? An affront to the art of creation!

Not really, rather just banking on intuition of smart people. I rather have the partial intuitive attention of a superstar to bang out some highlevel wireframes than the fully detailed mocks of a lesser talent. And if i’ve found a superstar, i want their productivity to be high – so guide them to focus on the details only in the most important cases, and turbocharge their output by timelimiting other exercises. You don’t want engineers backed up waiting for designs, and some hastily constructed thoughts from a great designer will be remarkably better than what most people can produce, even if given all the time in the world.

I find this approach also works with product managers – a quick direction spec and prioritization from someone who knows their stuff will always beat a more detailed PRD from a more average talent.

So if you ever look longingly at someone on your team and wish you had another person just like them, think about how to increase their output by getting them to do less, not more.

10 thoughts on “Get more out of your smartest people by asking them to do less

  1. good point bob – yes, at the end of the day, people need to feel excited and proud of the work their doing but there will be points where overall output is the most important thing they can contribute to the company.

  2. A good design process naturally fits with this model: start with high level wireframe concepts and share them with engineers and other stakeholders to get their input, then iterate and eventually work through all of the intricate use cases.

    As an interaction designer, I don't view the approach you describe here as an affront to my craft. Quite the opposite, in fact. If I were asked to go from zero to a first milestone of polished detailed mock-ups, *that* would be a bit of an insult, and give me the perception that my leadership lacks a basic understanding of my profession.

    It should of course be recognized that at some point, the granular design details will be needed by engineers as they move forward with development. But the nice thing about starting out with a high level deliverable is that it creates a logical breaking point for switching focus. The next assignment could be continuing to go deeper on X, or to start thinking high level about Y and Z.

    This “Ask for less” approach also makes me feel more productive because I get credit for delivering something that you asked for and I get to provide my teammates with something they can use, even if it's just phase one.

  3. Rachel – that's great to hear. I wanted to make sure that i wasn't saying “be sloppy” or “don't be proud of your work” but rather that but asking for a level of detail less, teams can move faster together,

  4. Often, the devil is in the details. One cannot deny the usefulness of a high-level wireframe, but perhaps part of the reason these superstars are considered superstars is because they get the details exactly right.

    And part of the reason they churn out awesome stuff is because they are passionate about them. If they were asked to rush through their job, they might not be as passionate about it to do justice even to a high-level wireframe.

    It would be interesting to examine whether lesser talent is able to execute on superstars' vision (in creating final mocks and designs) in the same way they themselves would have, and also whether such an approach would result in an increase in quantity at the cost of quality.

  5. Thanks for writing this, it's really interesting and great to see design taking center stage in this discourse. I think it's really important for non-design tech folks to hear from someone such as yourself that there is another work product equally or even more valuable than detailed screen designs and mockups.

    Unfortunately, my comment was too long for Blogger (who knew there was a 4K limit? :), so I've posted my response on my blog here: http://www.thepinkestblack.com/2010/07/role-of-great-designer-response-post.html

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