In-house Issues: The Problem Problem or Drill, Baby, Drill

I hear from many in-house designers and team managers who are unhappy with some, if not many, aspects of their professional situations. Based on their initial stories, they have good reason to be. The real problem lies not with the fact that they have a problem – there are always going to be problems. The problem is the problem the individuals I speak with have in accurately and effectively defining and distinguishing the problem.

After a quick description of what’s going wrong, which almost always involves a feeling that they and their teams are not being respected, most of the challenged designers launch into a tangled, though engaging, soap operatic narrative of internal politics, territorial managers and clients and convoluted reporting structures.


If the conversation went no further, there would not be a lot the designer could do – aside from writing a bestseller about corporate dysfunction. The key is that, at this juncture, there’s an opportunity to tease out of the story the fundamental root causes of the problems. The why behind the what’s happening. (You may need to figure out the why of the why.)

Some of those fundamental problems might include:

  • Clients and managers who are ignorant of design and branding best practices.
  • Unachievable deadlines due to a lack resources or inability to prioritize projects.
  • Clients pushing their tasks onto your team because they are overworked and understaffed.
  • Having mandated responsibilities without being given needed authority to carry them out.
  • Confusion over who the key stakeholders of your projects are and what their involvement in the decision making process is.
  • Your team is reporting into the wrong department.
  • A lack of clarity about your department’s mandates and responsibilities.
  • You have the wrong people in the wrong positions.

It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of the plot. Don’t! Instead, methodically drill down and find the reasons behind the drama so you can address them through positive action.

One thought on “In-house Issues: The Problem Problem or Drill, Baby, Drill

  1. Veronica

    Great advice. I could give examples of all of the above but I have found that the one thing that really works is to take the attitude that it is part of my role to educate those around me and above me of what my role and that of my department is. For example we recently refreshed our brand guidelines and fought hard to get time on the agendas of all the various management team meetings of all other departments – then when there we gave a professional presentation on what we were doing and why. Taking the lead like that, and taking responsibility for the decisions that have been made I think helps others to see your role as wider than that of a ‘producing dept’ into one which is responsible for the organisation’s brand. I’m not saying its perfect but things are all the better for having done it.