Crafting a Design Leadership Portfolio
January 8, 2023
One of the top questions I get asked is what a portfolio for a manager should look like. Unsurprisingly, the answer is like any design answer: it depends. The ultimate output of a portfolio looks different based on so many factors: whether you’re in brand or product, the type of management role, and what you’re optimizing for.
In this session, we’ll look at the goals of a manager’s portfolio, what you are optimizing for, and the core elements of a portfolio. There are a few common artifacts you’ll have as a manager: resume/cv, portfolio deck, and website. The last two might be the combo of your portfolio.
Setting clear portfolio goals
The truth is at some point in your management career you will not need a portfolio! You will be reached out by recruiters or apply based on your experience and credibility, which is a much harder thing to maintain than a portfolio!
You might be optimizing your portfolio for different reasons than looking for a new career opportunity. For example, you might want to get into public speaking at meetups and conferences. The content you show there is going to be much different than what you show in a career portfolio.
A leadership portfolio might not be optimized for looking for work.
- What type of role am I looking for?
- What size team do I want to take on?
- What type of industry/product do I want to work on?
- Who do I want to report to?
Questions to ask:
- Who is the audience for my portfolio? Is this to attract a potential new role, increase speaking engagements, or network?
- What type of leader are you? Do you want to emphasize certain skills? Do you want to eventually lead larger teams? Do you want to stay close to the product and lead that way?
Differences between a portfolio for managers and individual contributors
Depending on the level or the role, you may or may not show the work you directly contributed to. For example, if you’re interviewing for a product design manager role at an early startup or at an agency, it’s very possible that part of your responsibilities is doing the work. If you’re interviewing for a VP of Design role, you won’t be showing any pixels you pushed (at least I’d hope not!)
Similarities Learning about what you’re like as a person and working with you You’ll still have case studies that show business and customer impact Differences Your case studies will be more focused on what you put in place to enable teams to do the work You’ll showcase tools you’ve created, such as 1:1s docs, frameworks, and other Visualize your process of how you got work done Though it’s good to show business outcomes as an IC, as a manager, this will be expected in your portfolio Capturing the content for your portfolio Building a portfolio takes a lot of time, but you can start capturing data of what you’ll put in it as you go along. As a manager, the type of impact you make looks different than when you were an individual contributor (IC). Your IC portfolio is more around your work, process, and craft, and the management portfolio focuses on how you manage towards outcomes leading a group of humans. Keep an Infinite Slide Deck to track your work.
Keep a management journal Journal your experiences as you’re doing the work. It’ll help you keep track of data and moments you want to share later. Trust me, it’s hard to remember later on. As you keep your journal, capture key metrics you’ll need to remember to tell the story.
Career Management Doc by Jessica Ivins Hype Doc by David Hoang (inspired by CMD) Constructing the portfolio My portfolio is a keynote deck. You can use anything that can be exported as a PDF you can share. I also highly recommend building a website that will be your digital portfolio. The website can serve as general content and portfolio deck can be more details. You may not want to disclose every single detail of your portfolio online and that’s where a website might serve better to speak at things for a high level. It’s common for design managers to have absolutely no portfolio published online.
Platform I recommend having a website and a presentation deck ready to go. The content does not have to match 1:1 but it’s nice to have a website where you can have a general overview and a deep dive slide portfolio.
Elements of your portfolio
What is important in your portfolio
- About / your leadership story
- Career history
- Management philosophy
Management approach and frameworks
A few images and slides on your approach to management. This might include your leadership philosophy, what methodologies you subscribe to, etc.
Company and role overview
- Summary of your role
- Ex: Head of Product Design at Company A leading growth, product design, and content design.
Hierarchy of portfolio
Company-level Initiative level Project level Include Visuals of early ideation, decision points, and final outcome (credit who worked on it) Company goal Core metrics Case studies are different for managers. Though you’ll show project work (presumably what you did leading your team), the story you tell is slightly different. The core elements are:
Executive summary: What were the business goal and customer opportunities? What processes and frameworks do you put in place to drive outcomes for your team? How did you manage towards outcomes? Success metrics you put in place for your team What did people on your team do?
Build a web presence
This can be a complement to your slide deck. I recommend managers have a website. Elements to include:
The section that includes details about you:
- Bio: A manager should have a quick bio to give an overview of a career summary. Keep it about two or three paragraphs
- Resume or CV: This can be a downloadable PDF
- Philosophy and leadership principles: A nice section to share a bit about your approach and philosophy to leadership. This isn’t essential though very nice to have
I recommend that managers have a blog, whether on their personal website, or Medium. Writing articulates what it’d be like to have you as a manager or your philosophy. A few examples of good ones:
- https://medium.com/one-medical-technology/product-design-research-culture-at-one-medical-811a392ab0a3 or some other publishing platform
Work: Case studies and portfolio pieces you might want to include online. Be mindful of the company metrics you share publicly in case it’s confidential
By the end of the management cohort, we’ll work on your portfolio, your about page, and one case study of a project you led.
Best practices and tips
There are no one-size-fits-all approach for a leadership portfolio. However, here are some tips to keep in mind as you build your portfolio.
Focus on outcomes and impact
Focus on outcomes and impact; present your work at a level higher than you might be used to. Your portfolio will look more like case studies of your time at the company and with your teams vs. individual projects.
- Tell the story of the product you impacted during your tenure: what difference did you make in the customer’s journey with that product? Who did it impact? At what scale?
- Tell the story of how you impacted the business during your tenure: did you launch a new product? A new business line? Impact revenue or go-to-market?
- Tell the story of how you impacted people during your tenure: did your team grow? Did you branch out to hire new disciplines? Did you set up a career ladder and promote? Who were your successes?
- Tell the story of how you influenced cross-functional team members – both at your peer level and up/down. Did you help them understand the customer better? How did design impact their roles and outcomes?
Show what your team did and give them credit
It’s okay to show the work of your team. In fact, you should. However, make sure you give them credit.
Display your IC work somewhere to de-risk
Even as a manager, people want to know you used to be a good designer! I recommend including a few pieces of content around your work when you were an IC. No need to go in detail and include this as part of your overview.
Share what you learned
Part of what people will expect from leadership portfolios is the lessons you learned along the way. It will be more authentic if you talk about the lessons and address the “What would you have done differently?”
Example narratives you can tell
- Organizational excellence: example of how you identified a gap in how your team worked and solved it
- Leading through changes: How you led and kept your team resilient during challenging times
- Creating effective processes
- Teams you’ve built
- Initiatives that you led
- How you evaluate work
- How you ensure design quality at scale
- Abdul Wahid Ovaice
- Sana Rao
- Wendy Johansson
- Michael Chanover
- Alissa Briggs
- John Maeda
- Jared Erondu
- Hareem Mannan
- Sara Vienna
- Himani Amoli
- Jehad Affoneh
- Adrienne Gajownik
- Andy Budd
- Paola Mariselli
- Kurt Varner