People have to understand your AORs, not necessarily your job titles and functions

AOR = Areas of Responsibility

In my early years as User Experience designer, I would sometimes get upset when clients or colleagues would refer me as a look and feel guy, or a person who makes things beautiful. It felt as if all the hard work I had put in to acquire specialist skills about how people think, use interfaces and how to design memorable experiences has been reduced to nothing. It challenged my entire being, and career choice. It might be sounding dramatic but in reality, it was a slight blip in my happiness.


You will hear a similar talk amongst designers, developers, and product managers. They often complain about their closest team members not understanding what they do.

I noticed the same pattern later in my career after moving to Product Management. Product Management is also a grossly misunderstood role. Product Managers are often considered as Project Managers, and then there is whole another misunderstanding about PMs vs POs vs BAs vs DMs* etc.

The simple way to get over this is to accept your co-workers don’t need to understand your job titles and functions. What they need to understand is your Areas of Responsibilities (AORs). This is how people are creating an image about what you do anyway.

This is how they are making split second decisions:

You can take this approach further by producing an AORs sheet for yourself and every team member. This sheet can have 10 to 15 items macro items describing what kind of things people should come to you about.

You can also use the AOR sheet to onboard new employees and temporary workers. It is very helpful in large teams with many people have similar profile. Let’s say you are a Sales Manager and want to promote a case study on Social Media. A 20 member strong marketing team asks all requests to be emailed to creating extra useless admin work. A top down approach of reaching out to Head of Marketing is not effective either. In this instance, an AOR sheet can mention which marketer looks after social media posts and you can work directly with that person as per company’s process and guidelines.

The AOR sheet is a bit tricker for senior leadership roles as their day-to-day work includes lots of meetings, communication, thinking and strategy with few tactical things here and there. They can still have AORs where people can go to them for broader things and gain the big picture view by hearing the information first hand. This will also encourage juniors to have a reason to reach out to seniors.

There is another side of the problem i.e. when others understand your role too well, and think it’s easy-peasy. Some people are unnecessarily threatened by this and see it as a risk to their jobs, especially when that other person falsely proves their point in front of your larger peer group.

This could be equivalent of a Designer who’s good at writing thinking they can do most of the Copywriter’s job, or a BA who supports a PM thinking they can do most of the PM’s job without gaining experience and skills, or a Marketing person who has studied SEO for few months and start selling themselves internally to be an SEO expert.

There are two ways to handle this:

  1. Common Way: Constantly trying to explain your role, function and provide more visibility into what you do, hoping other person would care to understand and will give up their own agenda.
  2. Recommended Way: Embrace their enthusiasm and collaborate with them. Change the conversation to focus on results and value, and let the results you are delivering speak for itself.

Another example to give different perspective – Let’s assume you have hired an Interior Designer to design your office space. What matters is how good of a job they have done in meeting your requirements for designing the space and how happy employees are to work in that space. You don’t need to understand their role and everything they do. You would be forgiven for thinking their job is just making autocad drawings, sticking paintings on the wall, and buying cool coffee machines, foosball tables, sofas and rugs. This is how others see you when you are that Interior Designer. Take it easy.

PM → Product Manager
PO → Product Owner
BA → Business Analyst
DM → Delivery Manager
SM → Scrum Master
Note: These roles vary from company to company, and there is no standard or universal definition that companies stick to.

Summary / Key Takeaways ✍️ : #

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments, please contact me by email. Thanks for reading.


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