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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Encouraging a creative team member to assist in the UI designer duties

There are a certain number of resources that any particular software team can have assigned to them. Based on the amount of work that is under consideration of the team, the needs of the team are estimated in terms of the developers and testers vs. the amount of work done. If there is a lot of work and there are not enough developers or testers needed for this quantity of work, then the team has only 3 choices:
- Ask for and get more testers and/or developers, and take on this quantity of work
- Ask for and not get more testers and/or developers, and decline work beyond the amount that can be done with the team that you have
- The third one is the most problematic. The team does not get additional testers or developers, but there is a lot of pressure built to take on the additional work. One would not like to think of such a scenario, but it does happen, and eventually the team either gives up the additional work or takes on a lot of stress, and maybe even has a reduced quality in terms of their deliverable.
However, twice in the past 4 years, we have come across a situation which is not easily solvable, and for which we did not get any additional support. What was this case ? This was the case where the release we were doing had a number of features that required the support of a workflow designer / UI designer. In a typical release, we have a certain number of such resources assigned to the team, based on an expectation that the amount of workflow and UI required will be of a certain % (let us assume that 60% of the work being done by the team needs the support of the workflow / UI team - the reason for it being 60% is that the remaining 40% is where the team does some kind of tweaking / modification which does not require any workflow changes or UI changes).
However, this gets badly affected when there was a release where the estimation of the amount of work where the workflow / UI designer is needed was around 80%, and it was pretty clear that the team that was doing the workflow / UI design was not staffed for this extra work, and even if we had got allocation of budget for the extra work (which was not 100% certain by itself), it takes months to hire somebody with this skill set. Hence, there was no getting around the fact that we had a puzzle on our hands - we had estimated work for which we had enough developers and testers, we did not have enough designers. What to do ?
When we were discussing with the senior members of the team, we came across an interesting suggestion. Over the past, the team had noted that there were some members of the team who were more easily able to comprehend the designs put out by the designer team and understood the way that they were doing their reasoning. Given that we really did not have a choice, we went ahead with the open offer to team members who wanted to give open flow to their creative juices, and prepare the design, with rounds of review by the designer team (we found that this amount of effort could be accommodated), and then present to this team. One of the main persons we expected did not volunteer, but another person who was also seen a prospect volunteered, and we pulled her off her current responsibilities and got her temporarily assigned to the designer team. Over the next few weeks, we did a close watch on this arrangement, and while it was not as good as the design done by the designer team, our Product Manager was satisfied with this, and so was the design team, and we went with the design that she produced and the team accepted. Now, this was not a long term arrangement, but in the scenario described above, it seemed to work. 

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