The Commonwealth of Massachusetts tapped Nava to support the launch of their brand new PFML program, which guarantees paid time away from work for major life events. We were able to build this program in just 13 months by incrementally developing pieces of the end-to-end experience and testing them with real users before the service launched to the public.
This type of iterative approach is called agile development. In order to maintain an agile workflow, we task scrum leads with overseeing their teams. The designers on Nava’s Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) team recently developed an 8-week curriculum to train individual contributors to become scrum leads. The curriculum emphasizes building relevant skills and shadowing existing leads.
Hanya Moharram, a Designer/Researcher on the PFML team, recently underwent scrum lead training and transitioned to a scrum lead role. Below, she shares her thoughts on the training and her new role.
“I was ready for a challenge, and going through the training helped me feel less overwhelmed about taking on new duties. I had a lot of honest conversations with my peers and other team members who were like ‘Hanya, you're ready for this. Stop doubting yourself.’”
What did you do before Nava and what led you here?
I always knew I wanted my work to have a positive impact. After graduating design school, I worked at SEPTA, a regional transportation agency, and I had a design strategy fellowship with the City of Philadelphia as well as a contract role with the Open Gov Foundation.
I first heard about Nava at the Open Gov Foundation. Some of the designers and researchers that I was working with had previously worked with Nava designers. At the time, I was still relatively junior in my career and Nava was a young company. I had a conversation with Jodi (Leo, Nava’s Chief Delivery Officer) and we agreed that I should apply for a design role once Nava matured as a company and I gained more experience. I kept Nava in the back of my mind and ended up in consulting for two years.
The consulting work didn’t really align with my values and how I wanted to be using my skills, so after a period of time, I formally applied to Nava. And it’s been just shy of three years now.
Can you describe the organization of the PFML team?
We have different scrum teams that own different parts of the PFML experience. One team owns the application experience for people applying for PFML, another focuses on what people do post-application submission. We also have a team focusing on the employer experience, as they are responsible for administering benefits for many applicants. But our team’s structure changes depending on the work and our partners’ needs.
How is it different to be an individual contributor (IC) at Nava versus a scrum lead?
ICs are really hands-on. As an IC, I was responsible for a piece of the PFML application process that pertained to applicants taking leave due to pregnancy or recovery from birth. For that work, I created designs in Figma, put together a testing plan and interviewed users, collaborated with product and engineering teams, and answered our partner’s design questions.
On the other hand, being a scrum lead is like being a team captain. Scrum leads do less design and research work and more big picture planning and monitor team capacity. A large part of my role is helping the ICs on the team meet their professional development goals and monitoring their workloads. I’m also responsible for liaising with other scrum teams whose work interacts with ours, and if there’s an issue, I’ll escalate it to the appropriate people. In a similar vein, scrum leads often collaborate with cross-functional leads (engineering, product, project, etc.).
What’s the training experience like to become a scrum lead?
Nava provides a very thorough training experience that includes shadowing leads and having conversations about their work. I got to join a lot of lead meetings, like the general lead sync, which includes leads from all different disciplines. These meetings often include conversations about scope, staffing, stakeholder conversations, or mitigating risks. This helped me shift my perspective from being an IC—which is really about the nitty gritty—to understanding how every puzzle piece fits together as a scrum lead.
The training also includes a checklist of skills you should acquire and tasks you should complete in order to become a scrum lead. Both me and my lead had access to this checklist, and we would discuss it at our weekly one-on-ones. This helped identify areas and opportunities for me to improve.
Was there a particular part of the training you found most helpful?
Honestly, the conversations I had with my lead and with other leads were really helpful. It opened my eyes to how they deal with certain situations, make certain decisions, and manage several work streams. Our project lead frequently checked in with all the people going through training to ask how training was going, if we could share any lessons learned, and if we were experiencing any challenges. This helped the design organization across the company improve the training once we completed it, because we were the first cohort.
Why did you decide to go through the training to become a scrum lead?
I was having a lot of conversations with my manager, who also happens to be our program lead and co-developed the training, about my growth. I didn’t know if I wanted to become a lead because I take the responsibility of leading a team very seriously, so the success of my team can weigh on me. I also didn’t fully know what being a scrum lead entails, which contributed to my fear. I decided to participate in lead training to gain a better understanding of what the role entails so I could make an informed decision about whether or not I was interested in that growth path. You can do the training even if you never become a lead, so I knew I had the option to go back to my old role.
Once you went through training, what made you decide to actually take on the role?
I realized I had all of the skills in my toolbox already. I also saw how much the leads support each other, which was really reassuring. I don’t have all of the answers nor am I expected to, and I can always ask other leads in the design org or in other disciplines for support or guidance.
What do you think is unique about holding a leadership role at Nava?
People at Nava take their responsibility for each other very seriously. We’re all as concerned about doing right by each other as we are about doing good work, which builds trust among team members.
As a design lead working in the government realm, you have to deal with big picture planning and timing things properly. Within our PFML ecosystem, we’re one of a number of vendors on the contract, so there's a lot of interdependence and communication there.
Do you think stepping into this role has fueled your professional development?
It has made me think a lot about getting comfortable in a role. My work as an IC was challenging, but I was comfortable. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But I was ready for a challenge, and going through the training helped me feel less overwhelmed about taking on new duties. I had a lot of honest conversations with my peers and other team members who were like “Hanya, you're ready for this. Stop doubting yourself.” I can't say for certain that I will continuously be a design lead, but that’s ok too. The way Nava staffs projects allows for that kind of flexibility.