HOW WE MANAGE OUR DESIGN TEAM

How We Manage Our Design Team
office

by Ivalo Nikolov and Stefan Manchev

 

#HELLO       It’s been 5 years since we created AGENTI CINEMA and we still believe that Teamwork is an essential component of effective performance and reliability of our organization.

 

Btw — this article’s about a 10 min read, so grab your favorite beverage and make yourself comfortable.

 

 

THE BEGINING  (A.K.A “THE OLD WAY)

 

Like many other small design teams, we used to have a flat structure with only one person “leading” our design team. But a formal structure doesn’t make sense (unless you want to feed your ego) when you have less than five people on a team. So everyone was considered a regular designer who mostly worked on client projects. One person was given additional team responsibilities like key projects, resources, hiring, etc. and — because this person is also a co-founder of our company — they were occasionally called upon to offer company-wide management.

Unfortunately, this concept turned out to be unsustainable due to Filmmaking Industry unpredictability and demand for high speed and quality outputs

 

 

ONE ROLE, TWO PEOPLE

 

We were eager to find out and try a different approach.

We decided that Stefan, who’s passionate about working with people and developing their personal growth, as well as coaching, team management, organization and hiring, would take care of everything we needed to focus on internally. Generally speaking, he’d be the one responsible for the team as a whole.

Ivo, on the other hand, who prefers focusing on design work, cooperating with sIvo and marketing teams, improving design processes, and spending the rest of his time on team (and company) design promotion, would take the lead on everything external (i.e. public).

What we struck was a perfect balance that suited both our team and overall company model. Which is why we split the design team lead role between two people and allowed ourselves the opportunity to tackle more things at once while giving each other enough space to do our best. And while Stefan wound up taking an official lead as the design team’s primary point of contact, our respective responsibilities keep both of us involved equally.

 

Wait, So Who Does What?

 

Having two people take care of what is usually handled by one individual afforded us the perfect combination of efficacy and tailor-made roles. This is exactly what we were looking for, plus it opened up enough free time to work on other proactive ideas like we used to.

Here’s a brief overview of what each of us does now:

 

 

Stefan Manchev photo by Ivan Ivanov

 

Stefan Manchev, Design Team Lead / Project Manager

 

Stefan spends most of his time engaging in team management (team resources, project allocation, etc.) and working with people to ensure their happiness and personal growth. He also reviews everyone’s progress and has fallen in love with 1on1 checks. Stefan is the primary point of contact for requests coming from anyone in the company and takes overall responsibility for the team.

Other than that, he spends his time checking on people and the stuff they’re working on, provides feedback and guidance on projects, and — if necessary — troubleshoots fucked up and/or unexpected situations that crop up now and then so everyone has everything they need. We know and appreciate that he is always there for us no matter what.

 

  • Responsibility for design team — Main design team point of contact for everyone within the company (including management and other team leaders)

 

  • Team management – Design team resources and project assignment; supervision over upcoming and ongoing projects; resource planning; team activities; team collaboration; design process feedback and suggestions

 

  •  — 1on1 social and happiness check; project progress check; personal growth; project and client feedback (designer’s POV); design reviews; mentoring

 

  •  — Individual career growth and development for all members of the design team; career plans; internal education, as well as learning and guidance on any topics related to designer’s role

 

  •  — Pre-screening; portfolio reviews; interviews; test project review; offers/contracts; in-person checks; meetings

 

 

 

Ivaylo Nikolov photo by Peyo Peev

 

Ivaylo Nikolov, Creative Director

 

Ivo focuses on external (i.e. client-facing) activities. He spends most of his time cooperating with the sIvo team on design concepts, proposals, and calls with potential clients who’d like to learn more about our design process. He’s also responsible for time estimates, budget estimates, and the validation of our client prospects or starting projects.

His secondary role is taking care of our team’s marketing and design promotion (Facebook Instagram, etc.) in order to attract new clients and opportunities, as well as garner attention for our company. He also reviews and updates the design process, internal documents, and other materials we use to work efficiently as a team.

Besides that, Ivo also spends quite a lot of time designing and experimenting with new concepts and side projects to keep his creative juices flowing.

 

 

  • Regular reviewsand updates; cooperation between departments; on-boarding for new members

 

  • — Internal Design kits, docs, slides, templates, Agenti Cinema and Agneti Design Brand Guidelines

 

  •  — Time and budget estimates; design proposals and concepts; project reviews and validation; sIvo calls; new client leads; design team presentations; passive sIvo (social media leads); client introduction to our team/process

 

  • — Articles; videos; small promo campaigns; public talks; increasing company visibility via design projects.

 

  •  — Pro-active concepts and client proposals; client pre-screenings; product ideas; innovative design solutions; side projects; internal/free time project management and collaboration

 

 

WHAT WE HANDLE TOGETHER

 

Our responsibilities obviously have a few gray zones that need working through. In other words, it happens on occasion when two points of view are required to set up the right approach for a given project. Here’s a list of things we tend to work on together:

 

  • On-boarding — We’re both involved in on-boarding, but always discuss who should take the lead when it comes to new employees. Sometimes we take on a senior designer who needs to learn more about the design process (enter Ivo). Other times we hire a junior designer who requires more of a general introduction to how the team works as a whole (perfect fit for Stefan).

 

  • Team & individual feedback — Whether the feedback is good or bad, or meant to be shared with either a team or specific individual, we share our points of view and plan the next steps. This also includes suggestions for promotion and/or performance, or a general review of our team members.

 

  • Individual team member growth — Mainly led by the Design Team Lead, the happiness and personal growth of each team member sometimes requires both of us. Usually we discuss a specific situation or the next career step for our respective colleagues, i.e. taking a closer look at their wishes and needs.

 

  • Internal processes structure — The Creative Director leads the design process updates, but when it comes to more detailed cooperation with another department, it requires both of us to step in and join forces over new internal docs or a process setup.

 

  • Client relationships — In other words, fixing fuck-ups which happen from time to time. As mentioned already, we don’t step into a project, but only investigate what went wrong and suggest next steps. On the other hand, we also reward initiative and excellent performance.

 

  • Sharing know-how — Bringing our agendas and disciplines together to exchange new learnings and experience gained while co-leading a team. Stefan sometimes serves as personal coach to Ivo, while Ivo occasionally helps Stefan promote his new project.

 

  • Events — Whether we’re joining an event or putting one of our own together, we both discuss our plan, goals, and organization (choosing the topic, speakers, venue, etc.).

 

 

KEEPING EACH OTHER IN SYNC

 

While everything is laid out perfectly, nothing would ever run smoothly without . Both us can handle our agenda (described above), but there are certain things which need to be discussed or addressed to make a team decision or pursue next steps. Most of the stuff is discussed daily in the office and resolved immediately, but we also communicate in a more “formal” way via two sources:

 

 

Daily Checks

We sit down every Wednesday to discuss our shared agenda, which we write down during the week on a shared to-do list. It usually includes a variety of things ranging from individual projects, plans, what’s been done, what we’ll do next, and more.

This session can sometimes take up to an hour and a half, but it clears a lot of things from our schedule during the upcoming days (or weeks). We also exchange new learnings from our field (Stefan = internal, Ivo = clients, sIvo, marketing) and keep each other informed on stuff we usually don’t have a chance to check ourselves.

 

 

Group Chats And Private Channels

Our whole company uses Slack for communication. A variety of client project groups, departments, and private channels helps us keep everyone in the loop. We also created a structure to help us streamline communication on specific topics and people.

 

 

Vacation Plans

Our cooperation runs smoothly most of the year, but we also have a special mode when one of us is away on vacation. In short, we made the process easily transferable to just one person in case the other isn’t available. This person can temporarily take over all responsibilities and agendas and keep the design team running as usual.

 

 

 

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

 

Doing something like this is one hell of a workout for your passion, nerves, personal values, and more. But you probably knew that already, so let’s take a look at a few things that may not be so obvious:

 

Let People Do Their Thing

If there is someone brimming with initiative, give them the opportunity and responsibility to try out their ideas. Behind everything we do “extra”, there is an idea or a person that was given an opportunity to do what they like.

 

You Don’t Need to Be Available 24/7

While most leaders think they have to be available all the time in case something happens, we do the opposite. There’s never been any circumstance so critical that it required our immediate attention. We realized our professional roles never had to interfere with our personal lives.

 

Inventing Our Own “Design Team Model”

While some people may point out that this isn’t a standard agency model, that the “Creative Director” title usually stands for something different, or that you can’t have two career paths on the design team, we simply don’t care. That’s because we’ve invented our own design team model which works better than expected and doesn’t require the praise of others who can’t seem to wrap their heads around what we’re doing. Simply put: we enjoy building the team and company this way, and being happy and excited is what it’s all about at the end of the day.

 

There Is Still Time to Design!

Even though we spend a lot of time “managing” something or someone whose role we optimized, there’s still plenty of free time to open Sketch and experiment with designs or other creative ideas. Being a design lead without spending any time designing would be stupid, right?

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