My journey as a thrill-seeking alpha

Sajjad Ahmed

Jul 20 · 9 min read

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Photo Credit: Almas Liaqat

On Jan 3rd, 2019 I received a message on my LinkedIn from an unknown connection, asking me to share my work with him. I did that without knowing that one day I will be a part of his league (nevermind the 8 months it took to make up my mind). It took me long enough to decide since it seemed quite a rough and stony path. I had to modify numerous company processes, eliminate the redundant ones, and build new ones from scratch, all of which required a well-woven action plan followed by an extensive execution. It was never an easy decision, but a streak of thrill braced me for the challenge. And whilst making the decision, I came across a quote that worked as a catalyst:

“Remember one thing… the wolf on top of the hill is not as hungry as the wolf climbing the hill. We are that wolf who is climbing the hill…”

These lines had the conviction I was striving for. So I took the leap of faith and joined IDEATE.

I was well aware of the Digital Design Team’s current situation, its future goals, and targets. Knowing your strengths is essential for personal development, so in the first place I conducted one to one interviews with my team to look at design operations from their perspective. This gave me varied but surprising insights about their issues. Some of them are as follows:

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Getting ready for interviews

📊 Lack of Project Planning & Timelines

🗂 Design file management issues

🤝 Team Collaboration

⚙️ Multiple Design Tools

⁉️ Lack of background knowledge of products

🗣 No proper communication channel

❌ No design standard processes

❌ No task management processes

📦 Staying in the box was the prime hindrance

You cannot measure the height of a mountain until you reach the top. And climbing slickly requires a brave heart, full of curiosity, good estimation of fallouts, and persistence. To climb the enduring mountain of IDEATE, I chunked down our milestones to ensure the progression of our team. I paired my plans with the company policies (since you cannot ignore that) and shared with my team to make them aware of the unrevealed strength of the pack.

Identified milestones:

📊 Projects Roadmap and Timelines sheets sharing

⚙️ One Task Management tool — JIRA

🎯 Mandatory weekly milestones sharing

⏰ Weekly internal scrum meetings

📣 Deciding Slack as our vital communication platform

🙅🏼‍♂️ Defined and aligned Design Processes

📄 Presenting weekly departmental progress report

⚙️ One design tool for all — Sketch, inVision, Miro

🚀 Introduced Design Sprint methodologies

I had a clear idea that we were going to have rough days of unrealistic deadlines while re-aligning design perceptions for the management. During my first requirement meeting with Project Managers, rough wireframes, management lapses, and deadlines did not surprise me. But all these factors shined as great opportunities.

A clear vision, resilient attitude and selflessness can make someone follow your lead. To win this climb, I had to set an example for my team to stringently follow the defined practices. My prime motive was to encourage all team members to introduce inclusive practices that would push each Beta to become an Alpha someday.

For this matter, I shared a clear yet long-winded plan with my assigned team members. Being a leader, I did not want to overburden them, so aligned the hard steps for myself and let them explore new practices, as I did not want them to be afraid of this climb from the first step.

⏰ Minutes of Meeting
After attending numerous meetings, I observed the discrepancy in the requirements and production that could push us off the track. So I brought in a common practice of writing and sharing the Minutes of Meeting to reduce the risk of vulnerability.

📂 Shared the Project Plan
Secondly, I shared the timelines of our design tasks with other team members and stakeholders to keep ourselves focused and determined.

🚀 Introduced Agile Methodologies
I introduced an Agile way of working and delivering the identified tasks… but with stealth. To bring a change, you have to get overburdened for some time. Though it was hard, but not impractical. We internally practiced this agile sprint to see if we could bear the burden and kept sharing the progress with the client.

To enlighten my team with best practices of agile processes, I initiated a 2-week Design System project. This was a sort of fast-track learning where I shared the knowledge in a sprint tailored for my team. And in the result, they turned in their assignments, got graded and praised.

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Reflections on Agile methodologies

🌀 Jira Setup and Sprint
To not let us deviate from our goal, I employed Jira for our tasks’ management, where I created all epics, stories, subtasks and made all team members — including myself — bound to log the hours regularly.

📈 Daily Scrums
In agile processes you have to meet deadlines on a daily basis, so I made it a habit for my team to apprise each other with yesterday’s achievements and today’s goals in a daily standup meeting.

💡 Design Process
Previously, the team was skipping some core processes to meet the client requirements and deadlines. But I made sure to follow the design processes rigorously no matter what timeline or deadline has been communicated. We used to improvise these practices as per need, but did not compromise on the entire process.

👬 Empathising with the Frontend Team
For the implementation of the designs, the front-end had to be capable enough to execute the intended output. After observing a few critical glitches — outdated front-end languages, strict deadlines, limited Tech Stack — I along with my team provided them full-support around the clock to adhere to the processes rightly. This was the need of the hour to ensure the quality of the design.

🌍 Diving into the Coding world
The key to solving any problem is to dig into its cause, something I learned from my mentor, Umair). In my case, not following the Github protocols properly was the root cause that needed to be rectified. This was one of the hardest phases in the climb that took 3 months, since I had to learn all the processes by myself and share the best practices with dev guys for an impeccable production.

🧩 XML Structure: In the tech stack, working around XML structure (without HTML) happened to be tedious because it was tightly coupled with the back end. For this, we restructured the XML and established an effective approach to create HTML layouts on top of it.

🧲 Github Protocols: The piles of conflicts were created for not following the Github protocols properly, and it cost us a great deal of our work that we had to discard while establishing a proper Github system.

For this matter, we created proper conventions and protocols regarding ‘push’ and ‘pull’ for effective collaboration. Separate branches for each developer were maintained to avoid discarding others’ work and maintain proper work history. To resolve any conflicts, we would ‘rebase’ with the parent branch to review new updates in the parent, resolve the conflicts in the local branch, and then send a ‘pull request’ to the parent to ‘pull’ the changes from the developer. This allowed for seamless collaboration where one dev’s work would not compromise others’.

📌 Task Management: JIRA tickets not being followed up by the back-end team dutifully was a roadblock. For this, we started attaching screenshots of new updates as a proof of work when moving the tickets. This would enable the QA team to make sure that the work was indeed done.

To maximize the empathy amongst stakeholders, creating jargon harmony and processes awareness is indispensable. In my case, the stakeholders had imprecise association with designers terminologies and approaches.

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Design System of Jazeel — Global color replacement in Sketch

For this, I got an opportunity to present a demo to the stakeholders. I quickly managed to cater and reflect all changes in the current designs via the Design system. Though the job was only a few-clicks, the stakeholders found it a robotic yet intelligent move of implementing the Design system approach. It was indeed an ‘Aha!’ moment for me since I gained their trust on our other design processes too.

Along with the team struggles, I maintained empathy with our PMs. I shared my roadmap with them and my zeal, commitment and fine processes compelled them to trust in my decisions. They showed great support, for whatever I was doing was in the favor of our company and mutual goals.

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Heartfelt comments from the PMs 💌

The HOWs of doing so:

📊 Drafting the project timelines and roadmaps

🗣 Effective Communication

🏃🏻‍♂️ Chase them rather they chase you

💛 Build your trust with them

❄️ Foreseeing and clearing up the hurdles

😎 Show the results

⏰ Deliver the things before the timelines

🦸 Take the initiatives

♣️ Take the bold decisions

👨‍💻 Improvising according to their situation

To convince the PM for a Sprint to complete 2nd phase of the product, we rigorously practiced it internally on 6 sprints. I shared the knowledge of maintaining a backlog with my project QA lead, resulting in a groomed backlog with all departmental tasks alongside accurate estimations. This effort paid really well as we stopped chasing other departments for the tasks.

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KFH Jazeel — JIRA Board

🍀 Setting an example for other Products team and PMs
All of our productive practices brought about great transformations not only in our department but also within the company as a whole. Our rigorous way of following best practices inspired other departments, resulted in their PMs consulting us for next moves. They were too keen to learn our practices and showed huge interest in learning and employing those practices.

🏙 Future Moves
Success does not mean achieving a goal but to keep on exploring the new ventures to excel with persistence. My journey doesn’t end here because I can see an extensive view of opportunities and gearing up my pack for the next adventure of strengthening our design processes. Moreover, we aim to work devotedly on Human-centered approaches in our ‘Usability lab’ to augment the significance of User experience by making it the core of our products.

🌟 Taking help from the Great
During this journey, I consistently called upon Him-The most Knowing, The most Gracious. He, who has blessed me regardless of the time, place and things I asked for. The thought of his companionship and a feeling of Him being there for me has never budged me. He, whom I called in all thick and thin and He let me climb smoothly by turning all odds into opportunities, because He was never my plan B but my priority and my lifeline. Alhamdulillah!

Sometimes I would get exhausted because of the severity of the hardships, but His words… “We do not burden one beyond his capacity” (Al-Quran 02:286) kept on striking in my mind and I felt myself a strong and firm fellow of Him. Nothing was and never will be possible without his benevolence.

🍭 Wrapping Up
It’s the 3rd successful venture of my career where I rigorously pursued productive changes in the organizational cultures and processes. No wonder that it takes a great deal of time, effort and wait for the prayers to be answered but none of it ever goes unrewarded. My family has never given up on me on my way to explore new paths is the secret tool for my feat. Seeing the contentment in people around you brings you more inner peace and fulfillment. At IDEATE, we have aligned the right processes of moving forward and persuaded the product owners that following this key order is our only way to unlock our success.

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The UX Collective donates US$1 for each article published in our platform. This story contributed to UX Para Minas Pretas (UX For Black Women), a Brazilian organization focused on promoting equity of Black women in the tech industry through initiatives of action, empowerment, and knowledge sharing. Silence against systemic racism is not an option. Build the design community you believe in.
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