Design Team Levels Framework (Originally for Snagajob Design)
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This Levels Framework was created by Peter Merholz, originally for Snagajob Design
Rob Huddleston and Bridget Walsh from Snagajob did key foundational work.
This was also informed by contract work I did with Capital One.
For personal/internal use, go nuts. Have at it.
If used in a public or semi-public forum (presentation, workshop, etc.) please attribute to Peter Merholz. Thanks!
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ContributorDriverLeader
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AssociateKeySeniorLeadPrincipal
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ThemeA supporting-level player who is honing their craft and working to understand organizational contextAn established performer with strong communication skills who
proactively builds relationships
A high-level performer with strong relationships and the ability to lead projectsA leading performer who prefers to manage projects over managing people.
Indispensable individual contributor.
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KeywordsProfessionalism, craft, focused effortCommunication, craftExpertise, process, explain rationale, cross-functionalDepth, expertise, innovation, persuasion, strategic, confidence; programs not projectsBreadth, mentorship, evangelism, thought leadership, visionary, storytelling
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Achievements (what person has done to arrive at this level)Right out of school, quality portfolio, but little to no shipped workContributed to a couple of shipped projectsContributed to multiple shipped productsLeads the delivery of shipped products; Delivered successful work at the scope of ‘product areas’Leads teams in framing and solving hard problems; has driven innovative efforts that uncovered new value with new kinds of experiences; presents company as an industry leader in design
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Delivery
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Core Skills (see below)Strong in 1, capable in 2 otherStrong in 2, capable in 2 othersKiller in 1, strong in 2, capable in 2 othersKiller in 2, strong in 2, capable in 1-2 othersKiller in 2, strong in 2, capable in 1-2 others
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Process/Practice/PlanningStrong and capable engagement in standard design processesStrong and capable engagement in standard design processesDevelops the process/approach for tackling a design problem, using known methods; anticipates problemsDevelops and uses facilitation skills to engage cross-functional teams;
Explores new patterns and practices, enhancing methodological toolkit; shifts from project planning to program planning
Completed shift to 'program,' working across multiple workstreams; develops new practices that drive increased value and appreciation of design both internally and externally.
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Problem SolvingLearning best practices for common design problems; solutions are solid, though not novelConfident in applying best practices to common design problems; solutions are solid, not novelBegins going beyond best practices, and starts uncovering novel, unexpected, but still workable solutionsDevelops problem-framing approaches, establishing new starting points that lead to new kinds of solutions, which affects strategic thinking, not just executionUses design methods not as a tool to solve execution problems, but to identify new opportunities for value creation
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ScopeSolve specific function-level problems (e.g., "add to shopping cart")Given specific product capabilities that need to be solved (e.g., Checkout process)Leads the solution of a product area; connects that to broader product vision (e.g, product page and purchase experience)Leading the solution of undefined problem spaces (e.g. “How can we reconsider how people look for and purchase items?")Entire user experiences (e.g., "What is the end-to-end consumer/shopper experience?”) or leading special/innovation projects
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Communication
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PresentationDeveloping skill for communicating rationale to team members Confidently communicates decision-making rationale to team members Communicates rationale to partnersStorytelling and persuasion techniques build trust with partners and establish long-term relationships; comfortable communicating at all levels of the organization; demonstrates confidence and charismaUses storytelling and persuasion to connect strategy and vision with day-to-day practicality
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Cross-functional MeetingsAttending the meetingContributing to the meetingActive planner of the meetingDriving the meetingDriving the meeting
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LeadershipDoesn't take requirements as a given; makes sure there's a human perspective brought to bearEmerging recognition that it's not all about design, but how design contributes to a broader goal; recognizes business goals and technical constraintsClarifies success metrics and ties efforts toward delivering business valueUses understanding of impact and success metrics to focus their team's efforts; Emerging understanding of broader organizational context and goals; Connects team's efforts with savvy grasp of ecosystem and organizational context; Developing an ability to articulate a visionActions reflect holistic, integrated understanding of organizational context; appreciates LOB-level strategy; Develops and articulates compelling vision for the team; Working with partners and stakeholders, begins making real change in how the company approaches its business
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Relationship with Team Part of a team that they’ve been assigned toPart of a team they’ve been assigned toPart of a team they’ve been assigned to, in a leadership role; collaborating with cross-functional peersLeading a team that's been given to you; defining the problem cross-functional peers; mentoring contributor-level practitionersCreating the team you need; defining the problem with cross-functional leads; Influence at all levels of the organization; mentoring contributors and leaders;
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Recruiting / HiringAttends campus recruiting sessions; able to communicate mission, values, and work of the design team
Refers people in their professional network for jobsActive in screening and interviewing candidates; trained on best practices of hiring interviews; builds new networks of professional colleaguesDeveloping judgment for evaluation of talent; provides feedback for shape of their overall teamAttracts top-tier talent; demonstrates thought leadership and promotes company publicly as a leader in design
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Executive
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Core Skills:Management track ➔ManagerSr Manager/Associate DirectorDirectorSr DirectorVP
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User Research
Interaction Design
Information Architecture
Writing
Visual Design
Service Design
Prototyping
Front-end Development
Video and Photo Production
Concepting/Art Direction
Quantitative Research and Analysis
Animation
ThemesAn organized leader and performer who pushes convention and drives changeEffective leader focused on building teams and process for high impact resultsDynamic leader, focused on strategic vision, growing talent and executionStoryteller. Team Builder. Driver of cross-functional strategy.Articulate a compelling vision; help run the company
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KeywordsPersuasion, strategic, compassion, nurturingDelegation, expertise, innovation, confidence, growth; programs not projectsMentorship, new value creation, organization-wide leadership, planning; operationsVision, storytelling, scaling, organization designRecruiting and hiring; establishing culture; accountability; vision, evangelism
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AchievementsLeads the delivery of shipped products; Delivered successful work at the scope of product areasHas successfully managed 4-5 people; Demonstrated success managing others; able to drive multiple, related product areasSignificant management experience (teams up to 10 people); recruited and hired teamsLead teams in framing and solving hard problems; has driven innovative efforts that uncovered new value with new kinds of experiences; has managed managersSuccessfully run design organizations (of around 10-15 or fewer); Demonstrated ability to engage executive leadership across the company
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Delivery
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Core skills (see left)Killer in 1, strong in 2, capable in 2 othersKiller in 1, strong in 2, capable in 2 othersKiller in 1, strong in 2, capable in 2 othersKiller in 1, strong in 2, capable in 2 othersKiller in 1, strong in 2, capable in 2 others
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Process/Practice/PlanningDevelops the process/approach for tackling a design problem, using known methods; anticipates problems; develops facilitation skills to engage cross-functional teamsExplores new patterns and practices, enhancing methodological toolkit; shifts from project planning to program planning, across multiple workstreamsCompleted shift to 'program,' working across multiple workstreams; develops new practices that drive increased value and appreciation of design both internally and externally. Articulates a new process framework for tackling design problems; involved in annual planningEstablish a philosophy/mindset for how the team approaches its work (e.g., The Double Diamond); involved in annual planning
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Problem SolvingBegins to realize the power of problem-framing, establishing new starting points that lead to new kinds of solutionsDevelops problem-framing capabilities, affecting strategic thinking, not just executionUses design methods not as a tool to solve execution problems, but to identify new opportunities for value creationRealizes how shaping their organization drives new kinds of problem-solving.Reframes company-wide "problems" to suggest new approaches for solving them.
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ScopeLeading the solution of undefined problem spaces (e.g. “How do people complete a transaction?”)Frees resources to drive change by systematically cutting low return activitiesEntire user experiences (e.g., "What is the end-to-end shopper experience?”); Active in company-wide leadership iniitiativesEntire user experiences (e.g., "What is the end-to-end shopper experience?”); Active in company-wide leadership initiatives; Drives new company initiativesThe Big Picture of an entire company's offerings, and how they integrate and coordinate
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Communication
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PresentationCommunicates design rationale, and uses storytelling techniques, with partners and stakeholdersStorytelling and persuasion techniques build trust with partners and establish long-term relationships; comfortable communicating at all levels of the organization; demonstrates confidence and charismaUses storytelling and persuasion to connect strategy and vision with day-to-day practicalityUses storytelling and persuasion to connect strategy and vision with day-to-day practicalityCommunicates compelling vision that makes new strategies concrete
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Cross-functional MeetingsDriving the meetingDriving the meetingDriving the meeting when communicating up; stakeholder for when a lead/manager on your team is driving the meetingStakeholder for whom the meeting existsStakeholder for whom the meeting exists
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LeadershipUses understanding of impact and success metrics to focus and reprioritize their and their team's efforts; Emerging understanding of broader organizational context and goals; Connects team's efforts with savvy grasp of ecosystem and organizational context; Developing an ability to articulate a visionStrong delegation practices, recognizing that they cannot do the work directly and must be leveraged; Actions reflect holistic, integrated understanding of organizational context; appreciates LOB-level strategy; Develops and articulates compelling vision for the teamWorking with partners and stakeholders, begins making real change in how the company approaches its business; Articulates vision for the team that excites and inspires leaders and partnersEstablishes cultural practices that drive the team's behavior.
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Relationship with teamLeading a team that's been given to you; collaborating with cross-functional peers; Active in recruiting and hiringCreating the team you need; defining the problem with cross-functional leadsCreating the team you need; defining the problem with cross-functional leadsEstablishing the organizational structure, defining roles, opening headcountEstablishing the organizational structure, defining roles, opening headcount
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People ManagementDevelops basic understanding of people management practices, particularly around professional development; emerging ability to delegate work to othersCreates opportunities for reports to grow and flourish; comfortable handling 7-8 direct reportsBegins to manage managers; coaches them toward strong people management practices; drives broader organizational efforts around culture, work, and valuesHelps understand, create, and model team culture and valuesManages directors; shifts from 'management coaching' to 'executive coaching'; Helps directors understand how to leverage themselves
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Recruiting / HiringDeveloping judgment for evaluation of talent; provides feedback for shape of their overall teamIdentifies need for new people; shapes requisition; works with recruiter to find talentActive in annual and ad hoc headcount planning for the organization; works to secure necessary budgetAttracts top-tier talentEstablishes recruiting and hiring practices for the team
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Snagajob Design Levels