Relearning how to work

Taking the leap into contracting has been a title change, but I didn’t realise it would also mean a significant shift in how I work.

An illustration of a cycle: Learn > Understand > Challenge > Unlearn

I’m now officially self-employed! 🥳

There ended up being only a day between leaving my full-time role at Inktrap and starting my first contracting role. I was fortunate enough to have spent the last few weeks winding down projects I’d worked on and letting clients know I was leaving, and I had a pretty relaxed notice period.

Meeting the team and understanding the project

The first day of contracting has equally been relaxed. On Thursday, I was warmly welcomed on a video call where we took part in a mini-workshop session defining how we liked to work.

It was a great workshop and something that I’d tried to create before to use with my last team, but I don’t think I had the right questions at the time, and it didn’t seem that valuable.

This workshop consisted of asking questions such as:

  • Were we more of a morning or evening person
  • What are our strengths
  • How do we do our best work
  • What’s a straightforward way to see if we’re stressed
  • And what is the best way to communicate

Interestingly I struggled on the strengths part. I began feeling self-conscious talking about what I thought I was good at and almost worried that I’d be considered arrogant. That said, I know the team I’m working with wouldn’t feel that way, and I was honest with them that I found it challenging.

Fortunately, on the same day, I had my first mentoring session where I had raised that I’d felt uncomfortable talking about what I was good at. It became clearer that if I want to be a successful contractor, I need to start being confident in my skills and be even more confident in talking about them.

New role, new team and a new place in the ecosystem

One of the most significant shifts for me was coming into a project out of the loop. The project started two weeks ago, so some initial meetings have already happened, and I will naturally try to get up to speed. Perhaps I’d also had some expectations of myself to understand everything that was going on immediately. I’m trying to remain aware and be a bit kinder to myself and that the slow and steady approach is perfectly fine.

Another part of this experience that is different for me is not being the sole leader on the project. Over the last few years, I’ve consistently led a project, created and defined the strategy we were going to take. Working with others, especially those who are more senior than me, is an experience I’ve not been familiar with for a long time.

What I’ve learnt so far

One of the core reasons I’ve taken to contracting is because I want to learn more about different teams, processes and cultures of various companies. And already in the two days, I’ve been on this contract I feel as I’ve learnt loads.

Critical User Journeys

Luckily for me, I’m starting my first contract with people who have worked at various agencies and big tech names such as Google, Twitter and Invision. With that incredible amount of experience around me naturally, new information, processes and ways of working will come to light.

An example of what a critical user journey looks like and the steps involved.
An example of what a critical user journey looks like and the steps involved.
Slide from “What Is Product Excellence by Google Product Manager”

I’ve been introduced to a term and framework called Critical User Journeys, also knows a CUJ’s. And a Critical User Journey describes a path that a user takes to reach a goal, and this goal tends to be a need they want to fulfil. CUJ’s are repeated often, or they are essential for that user. At Google, they look at the entire context of the users journey their needs. It feels similar to User Stories and Jobs To Be Done, but with a broader lens of the problems faced.

An example of a CUJ for a restaurant search online might include:

  • Deciding what type of restaurant to visit.
  • Finding a restaurant.
  • Clicking on the website.
  • Bookmarking their website.
  • Sharing the website with a friend.
  • Making a booking.

Critical User Journeys allow us to see the bigger picture and see how many products or features can help users meet their goal.

Previously I’ve made user journeys and described them as core flows, for example, onboarding to a new platform for the first time. However, the CUJ approach would look at how a user got to that point in the first place. By no means am I an expert on the approach, and I may have even misunderstood it. But like any new skill, it’s something I’d need to put into practice, but I believe it will be a handy tool after collecting user insights and planning on what areas to focus on.

Pitch — A presentation tool

Image of the Pitch user interface
Image of the Pitch user interface
https://pitch.com/

I’ve also had a chance to use the collaborative presentation tool called Pitch. Usually, I’m a Google Slides kind of gal. Still, Pitch is excellent, the interface is fresh, it feels easy to work together on a presentation, and a super helpful feature is that you can set a status on the slides, so you can highlight to yourself or the team what slides need more work on and which are signed off.

Abstract Notebook — A documentation tool

An image of the abstract notebooks interface
An image of the abstract notebooks interface
https://www.abstract.com/blog/introducing-notebooks

We’re also using Abstract Notebook for documentation. By looking at the website, I’m still not 100% sure what the purpose is or what they are trying to do. When I signed up, I assumed it would be like Notion, which I’m very familiar with, which probably not the best approach on my side.

Instead of pages like on Notion, Abstract Notebook uses ‘notebooks’. However, within a notebook, you’re not able to add more folders or subsections. I don’t feel like I’m using it as intended. I think that it’s more for documentation so that it becomes a single source of truth. By no means is it awful. It’s just something I’m not familiar with using, and unable to see its total value yet.

Final thoughts

I’m pleased that I have spent two days getting introduced to the team, project, and tools at the end of the week. It’s allowed me to feel that I have a foundation set when I start again on Monday, and I’m ready to speak with the client directly and dig into this project fully. Having just two days on the project to begin with, and then a chance to enjoy the weekend allowed me not to feel too overwhelmed with information.

If there are any other resources you think would help me on my journey let me know as I’d love to learn more.

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Please support me by sharing!You can refer them to subscribe to my newsletter. If you have any questions or fancy a chat? Email me at liz@skyburgerstudio.co.uk or send me a tweet @lizhamburger

Writing about design and some other bits in between | Digital Product Designer Contractor at @RivalLondon| Event organiser for Triangirls | Formally at @Inktrap

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