Force multiplication is a capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that force and thus enhances the probability of successful mission accomplishment.
I recently saw an interesting post on my alma mater’s Facebook page where current students and alumni can discuss the state of the design industry. Folks can share their real world experiences with students who are entering the workforce. One of my former professors posted:
“I think a balanced quality for any designer is to be smart and lazy at the same time. Smart to identify what really needs to be done, and lazy to find the simplest and easiest way to do them. What do you think?”
This particular post inspired me to reflect on my own journey as a design professional.
One of the interesting things, being only a few years removed from the rigors of college curriculum myself, is seeing the shift in my focus for improvement. While in college, it was easy to get wrapped up in learning tools to do the job as well as proper methodology and processes to achieve a solution. Over the course of my years in the workforce though, my focus has shifted from that of learning more commodity based skills (run photoshop, direct a brainstorm session, produce design concepts) to learning how to optimize my workflow, manage my time, and make myself as efficient as possible.
This allows me to have more time to focus my efforts on doing the things I love, learning new tools & methods, or generally having more down time. Sharpening your workflow provides you with what I consider a reward more valuable than monetary value: Time.
One hour of my current time equates to around three hours of what I used to use when I was working in college. How do you know that Courtny, you may ask?
During college I had the opportunity to intern at Software Engineering Professionals. There I had the pleasure of meeting Anthony Panozzo, who introduced me to the pomodoro technique and Chris Shinkle who is a Lean & Kanban evangelist. Anthony provided me knowledge I could leverage to maintain consistency and structure in my micro workflow. Chris introduced me to utilizing Kanban to separate my tasks into relatively equal sized ‘tickets’ that I could pull as I worked. This helped to limit my work in progress, and combined with the Pomodoro technique enhanced my workflow greatly. Ultimately, this reduced churn and ensured I would complete tasks, not just begin something and have many MANY projects in progress; none of which came to an end.
It is my opinion that assessing the efficiency of an individual is something that is commonly overlooked in the design community.
This revolutionized the way I worked. I felt liberated. I now had insight into how long it took me to complete tasks, how I could make my twenty five minute segments more efficient, and how I could become a true force multiplier by simply increasing my efficiency as a designer.
Becoming a Force Multiplier
It is my opinion that assessing the efficiency of an individual is something that is commonly overlooked in the design community. It is generally only mentioned in passing in traditional educational institutions. Designers are often thought of as being free-thinking, “when the inspiration hits” individuals. But becoming more pragmatic regarding how and when you do your work can make you an extremely valuable member of a team.
Other colleagues will have their own schedules, deadlines, and needs. It is your job as a professional to ensure they have what they need to be successful, and it is important you have an understanding of your own workflow so you can estimate appropriately and deliver on time. Your personal reputation as a worker is very important. I like to be known as a man of my word and not let people down. I also don’t enjoy staying up until all hours of the evening trying to hit a deadline.
An excellent way to identify and optimize your workflow is to leverage the Boyd Loop, consisting of these steps:
Observe: Analyze your workflow, pinpoint inefficiencies.
Orient: Place your new observations into a context with your old work processes.
Decide: Select the next action based on the combined observation and knowledge you gained.
Act: Carry out the selected improvement regularly.
Real World Example: Naming all your layers in a design document.
Context 1 ~
You are the only member on the project, delivering final assets to developers for the life of the project. There is no added value in you spending an extra 4 seconds naming every single layer in that design document.
One project I recently worked on had a fireworks document that had thirty five pages in it and averaged ninety individual elements per page. Sparing the math, this equaled an additional 3 hours I would have spent naming each of those elements (and sometimes, figuring out what something should be named is a task in and of itself.) Name what you need to keep your own context, but avoid spending unnecessary time doing this.
Context 2 ~
You are working with a distributed team and multiple developers and designers are contributing on your project. Your three hours of careful naming standards may multiple the effectiveness of your team members, as they won’t have to search items and can clearly identify what they need. You have effectively ‘force multiplied’.
Time is valuable. You don’t have an unlimited amount to expend on a project. I personally believe that as a professional designer it is of critical importance you maintain a pragmatic approach to how you create and provide solutions. Time and again you will be able to deliver consistently great results, be a great team member, and attain your goal of becoming an effective Force Multiplier.