Made by Many has been practising digital product development for ten years (and more if you count our combined experience at previous companies). A common thread running through our history is one of continuous improvement, and we continue to attract the brightest and best talent in digital product design and development. So it’s important to us that we do all we can to support our people in doing the best work of their life here at Made by Many.
With this post, I’m very proud to reveal the first release of the Made by Many professional development programme.
We've always been obsessed with methodologies, approaches, new ways of doing great work. Partly because we’re geeks, but mainly because everything in our industry has shifted, and change continues to happen at an exponential rate that we are committed to stay ahead of. We are able to deliver high quality work that rapidly gets our clients started on the road to transformation within weeks, not months. This is in no small part due to the investment we put into professional development.
In the wayback machine
But first, let me indulge in a bit of the back story that got us to this point. Originally a tight group of seven (four founders and employees #1, #2 and #3 in 2007), we operated from very similar principles as we have today. Our interactions were enhanced by an understanding that's only possible when you know people really well and the group is small enough that your spider senses pick up important strands of ambient conversation around you.
Fast forward a couple of years to 2009, and we'd doubled in size (a massive 13 people). By the time we moved to Diespeker Wharf in 2010, we were up to 30. Beyond ten people, it’s clear to anyone that knowledge sharing and information transfer becomes increasingly complex. In the ensuing years, our culture worked overtime to build strong personal ties between The Many which enabled people to assimilate the Made by Many way in product design and development, mainly via shadowing more experienced people and creating opportunities for everyone to make, test and learn from day one.
We rode the folk knowledge train until it became clear that it was totally unscaleable and we struggled to effectively commute know-how to the incoming brains. As our team grew, new people arrived, others moved on to new adventures - know-how and the execution of it was fluctuating with the changing shape of Made by Many.
On top of this, expectations of career development started to shift. With a company of less than 50 people that has a fairly flat structure, the opportunities for career advancement are less about climbing a job title ladder and more about carving out opportunities to learn new skills and foster capabilities. So, in the absence of a working Vulcan mind-meld prototype, we sought alternative action: in 2015, work began on developing a professional development programme.
How we made it
Like the magpies we are, we looked at how the rest of the industry approached professional development for their teams. Many companies took job descriptions as the be-all and end-all of a person’s career. The problem with this -- particularly in our industry -- is that being a generalist with deep knowledge (T-shaped, X-shaped, I-shaped, Paint Drip - whatever you want to call it) is highly valuable. And that kind of curiosity and adaptability is better fostered by thinking about career development at the discipline level rather than the job title level.
What did excite us, though, was a skills matrix created by trailblazers Undercurrent (sadly no longer with us) who recognised that people's skills didn't develop at the same rate, and that everyone was different. They also recognised that people wanted to be guided in their development, and to look to the future. We loved the starting point, but felt that it was a little bit too complex for us, and that one thing was crucially missing: how to turn it into reality was something absent from all of the professional development material we had looked at. How do you know how to develop a certain skill? And can you effectively demonstrate your mastery of that skill?
How the programme is structured
We have six levels within each discipline -- a manageable number that guides people, without being prescriptive or over-complicated. The levels give people a scaffold onto which they can project their personalised career path, reflecting their progression, and facilitating professional development at every stage.
It's been a huge job to work out how these translate into the real world: ‘learning by doing’ is fundamental to Made by Many’s M.O., so the handbooks have been designed to give people actionable examples that help them put things into practice. Each page includes check-boxes to help people keep track of things they've mastered and things they're working on. And at the end of each section, we've included notes pages for people to collect their thoughts and plot their action plans.
Core skills and shared skills
For each of the disciplines, there are 4-5 core skills:
Design: core design skills, research & insights, creative problem solving, prototyping & visualisation, production & delivery
Technology: technology consulting, QA, technology practice, DevOps, technology leadership
Product Management & Strategy: vision and discovery, proof of concept, go to market, transform and grow
And there are five shared skills common to everyone at Made by Many: presentation and communication, teamwork, mentorship, networking and recruitment, MxM and our industry.
For now, the programme is only available to Made by Many employees, as we observe how people put the handbooks into action and use them to set professional goals. We’re also trialling aspects of the programme with our clients, to structure activities around capability building. But in the not-too-distant future, we are ambitious to share the programme more widely.
Get in touch if you're interested in talking to us about how we can help build digital capabilities and Product Culture inside your organisation.
The Made by Many professional development programme is the result of a multi-month collaboration involving: Charlotte Hillenbrand, Susan Lin, Fiona McLaren, Adam Morris, William Owen, Peter Parkes, Isaac Pinnock, Ilya Poropudas, Łukasz Sągol and Andy Walker.
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