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How do I increase my scope and complexity?
As I’m starting this substack, I am reposting blogs I wrote from 2019-2021 published on Amazon’s internal wiki. As I continue to publish here, I will publish a combination of fresh content and reposting older content. This post is originally from May 17, 2019.
While doing gardening and yard work this past weekend, I was thinking about the scope of the work. I likely could spend a lot of time and money on my yard, but I have to scope the project. At Amazon, we often talk about scope in terms of MLP (minimum lovable product) and what will be in or out of the product when it launches. (And no, my yard doesn’t meet the bar of a lovable product… hah!) But we can also talk about the scope and complexity of our role. Having your current work be at the scope and complexity of the level you want to be at is important to get promoted. To get promoted at companies like Amazon, you need to demonstrate that you are operating at the next level – consistently enough to give a promotion committee confidence in your readiness for promotion. But how do you increase your scope and complexity within your current role and projects? Let’s talk about it.
Write down the scope of your role
When we’re applying for a new job, we get a job description that shares high-level expectations of the role. After we start in that new job, we’re given clarity about what our role is and what projects we’ll pick up. Over time, new projects will come in and your role may adapt and after time, we lose sight of what that job description is. When I was writing my promotion document to be a Principal Designer at Amazon, I found it insightful and helpful to write my scope of the role. Doing so gave me clarity on what I thought my role was. By writing it down, it allowed me to examine whether I had the right scope to get promoted and to get feedback from my manager and mentors. In some of the promo documents I’ve seen, the scope of the role summarizes previous contributions whereas others have been written as aspirational to the current work and focus. Here’s the paragraph I included in my promotion document from February 2018:
The Principal UX Designer in EDG is responsible for threading the needle between programs that are loosely connected (including Concept Lab initiatives, Spark, Amazon Apps, and Customer Reviews), but not interweaved, to create a more cohesive customer experience. The Principal UXD is responsible for defining a holistic CX vision for the mShop App Experiences team (“AppX”), a team creating app-first innovations for Amazon apps distributed across 12+ marketplaces worldwide with a combined sales of $XXX in 2017. This includes globalization menu strategy, information architecture and UI for 80 menu links, the app chrome and navigation components, and the deep-linking strategy between Amazon experiences such as Video, Music, Alexa, and Whole Foods. This role provides leadership to other EDG designers (including the Concept Lab’s Incubation team) and creates a working partnership with senior leaders to provide shape and structure to a vision.
After writing this and discussing with your manager, one good lens to put this scope through is how much of your work is being directly asked of you versus you are proactively identifying and driving. For example, when a product manager asks you to create flows for a certain feature, the scope of your work is being defined for you. While a significant aspect of the work in my career has already been scoped for me, it limits my time and ability to expand my scope and complexity. If you’re in this situation, you’ll need to make time in your schedule to find opportunities to expand your scope by taking on more complexity.
Look at opportunities to expand your scope
In addition to bringing your manager a written scope of my role, I also recommend creating a list of opportunities you see to expand your current scope. If you aren’t taking a purposeful approach to your career, the path to growth and promotion will be slower. If you don’t own it, who will? So, as you develop a list, look for opportunities within your current team (product or design), a peer team that is doing related work, or within the broader Amazon community. This could be developing a new tool for your team, starting office hours, writing best practice articles for other designers, helping a product team that doesn’t have a designer, teaching a lunch and learn, become a CXBR, writing a 1-pager on the challenges and opportunities you see in a new space… This list could be nearly infinite. When I’m looking for new opportunities within my organization, I’ve found a lot of value from reading org-wide documents like operating plans, quarterly business reviews, or three-year plans. These broaden my perspective of the current initiatives and health of the organization to identify what work I could do that would further these initiatives.
Complexity, ambiguity, and scope are interlinked
Finally, let’s talk about the complexity of the work. One signal I look at for complexity in my work is how much ambiguity I’m dealing with. The more undefined, unknown, unclear a project is, the more complexity you’re dealing with. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks writing a document on the challenges and opportunities I see within Alexa notifications. I’ve taken a fairly broad perspective into anything Alexa may deliver to you that you didn’t ask for which has greatly expanded the scope and complexity of the problem. Because of that expanded perspective, the problem has become more ambiguous. The deeper I go into looking at this, the more unclear the right answer becomes. To expand the complexity, I took a known problem (Alexa notifications are broken) and I expanded on how others seemed to define the space (the yellow light ring on Alexa). Because of how challenging this problem is, I’ve felt fairly uncomfortable and unconfident in my skills to solve this. But I’ve also learned to love that sign of being uncomfortable because that’s a key aspect to having a growth mindset and growing in my skills.
So that’s all I got for today. To summarize, you can expand your scope and complexity by:
Define the current scope of your role.
Identify how much of your work is being asked of from you versus you proactively pursuing.
Look for new opportunities to contribute within your current team, a peer team, or within the organization.
Embrace and build within the ambiguity of your work. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone.