As systems evolve from loosely managed side project to a more disciplined practice, contributors may form a central team that treats the system as a product.
At this moment, questions of “Do we have a backlog?” (Yes) and “Shall we work in sprints?” (Yes) give way to more important questions like:
- Who owns design and technical strategy?
- Who prioritizes what to make next?
- Who sends meeting invites, runs stand-ups, and moderates sprint reviews?
Initially, system teams are staffed by designers, developers, or a mix of the two. These practitioners may be disinterested or ineffective in leading and managing a system as a product.
That’s an important reason teams hire me as a consultant and coach: I’ll serve in these capacities – system lead, product manager, and (untrained but good enough) scrum master – for system teams through a first release. I’ll spend from 8 to 12 hours per week to lead and manage a 5 to 7 person team, each ~1/2 time. For a system to thrive, it’s essential that in-house staff observe and eventually succeed me in each role, whether by adding team members and/or via me training them along the way.
In fact, a systems team I worked with in 2016 had me write up a job description. I love it! They were smart enough to recognize the need (“You know what, Nathan’s not just a designer/developer, is he?”) and serious enough to figure out how to fill the gap.
They were also kind enough to let me share the description with the community, which I’ve copied below. I hope that it helps your team identify who’ll take on varying responsibilities, even if not as a formal hire. Now get to making a system with discipline!
Systems Lead Job Description
Drive the vision, product management, and/or project management of a design system of visual style, UI components, and other design concerns.
The ideal candidate will take a systems-mindset to build and integrate consistent, efficient components across the product portfolio. Emphasis will be on the complete systems life-cycle, from establishing a practice and vision that endures to design, build, document, and maintain a library used by many product teams.
System Design and/or Dev Leadership
- Lead the visual and technical direction of the experience design, visual style, and technical tooling, with input from director-level peers of product design and development teams.
- Report team and system progress regularly to primary director leads and executive/VP-level sponsors.
- Direct scope of systems concerns and relevant products to adopt it.
- Present the system’s mission, library, and process to other groups, including product managers, content specialists, QA, and other design and development teams throughout the enterprise.
- Review library docs for editorial quality, consistency, and usefulness.
- Conduct quarterly one-on-one reviews with team members to identify successes, challenges, perspectives and preferences.
- Identify and nurture team growth and culture, identifying opportunities for team members to drive and lead system aspects.
- Decisively resolve priorities, timing, risks, task importance, and possible breaking changes.
- Clarify scope to balance delivering minimum useful functionality with properly scalable system design.
- Identify, monitor, and report on system use across the enterprise.
- Attend and coordinate with product management release planning activities to identify library needs.
- Interview and foster discussions with others using the system.
- Align research activity to assess efficacy of system concerns.
- Challenge the system team on what to automate vs manually perform.
Project Management / Scrum Mastery
- Deliver system releases at a predictable cadence.
- Manage the backlog and roadmap of library features.
- Facilitate regular team scrum and sprint planning sessions.
- Identify, prioritize, and monitor task progress of design, development, and documentation across team members.
- Schedule regular meetings for critique, scrum, planning, and reviews.
- Negotiate and clarify staff capacity for system work relative to other commitments to deliver releases at a predictable velocity.
Additional Skills: Design & Development?
The system lead need not necessarily perform daily design and development tasks. However, a Systems Lead should have experience in both competencies, contribute to lower-level decision making, direct broader strategy, and observe when narrower efforts conflict with or distract from broader goals.
- Integrity & trust
- Managing & planning systems
- 10+ years experience in one or more of: product management of web-based sites and/or applications, information architecture, interaction design, front end development, or business analysis.
- 5+ years managing design and/or front-end development team(s).