Write Your User’s Manual

George Zhang
4 min readAug 31, 2018

“Have you written a User’s Manual for yourself?” Every time I threw out this question during mentorship sessions, I could see confusion, bewilderment, and shocks on the faces of eager and excited human beings who worked their butt off to be a good leader now or for the foreseeable future. “George, what are you talking about???”

“I’m going to write a User’s Manual for myself as I’m becoming busier and busier everyday … ” It’s a sincere promise from a newly promoted director in one of my former companies. It sounded so nice to individual contributors (ICs) like me at that time because with that manual I would have soon known how to to work with that amazing leader. The working protocol would have step by step procedures printed in black and white. It rang well in me even though we didn’t eventually get it.

Years passed by. The idea still rings well, in me.

At Uber, my user experience research team grew up to about 20 and expanded to several totally different product areas, from 2-wheel bikes to 18-wheel trucks. Also from Bangalore to San Francisco to Seattle to New York.

“You need to write a USER’S MANUAL to tell people (and yourself) how to use you, and how to use your time, ” I found me telling myself a few months ago.

Firstly, I wrote a draft and shared it out. With excitement and nervousness, I received dozens of feedback. For example, a senior researcher asked me to list all product areas I manage. Then the draft got refined, and new round of feedback. Rinsed and repeated. The process was very like polishing the user’s manual for a real product. I even read the non-confidential sections to my elementary school daughters to see if they (somewhat) understood it.

My first and best reward out the process was that I KNEW MYSELF BETTER.

It worked. Very well with others I work with. In terms of saving time, avoiding confusions, and building trust, especially with new team members.

It also worked well with my stakeholders in other functions. Trust was quickly established because the manual made them believe that I was reliable and transparent. Many of them would like to write their own ones, and I have seen a few with my own eyes. So delightful!

Hereby I would like to share my User’s Manual. (If you’re working at Uber, feel free to contact me to obtain a copy.)

  • General information. I have to be clear and honest about who I am as a human being. I started off with a funny statement “Made in China. Imported to the USA in 2010” which made many people burst in laughters. Personalty, education, experience, strengths were added. I also pointed my biggest weakness — “writing papers”. My job interview portfolio was hyperlinked because I think it’s fair for them to know where I came from, and my goals for them to know where I’m heading to and what they can help me about.
  • Three beliefs. Here I briefed about what I learned to be true over years, respectively about UX research as a function, UX researcher as a team player, and what a healthy UXR team looks like.
  • How to run 1:1s. This is the core part, about how to use me and my time. I built an “Approver, Advisor, Advocate, Friend” framework to help team understand and tell me what I shall do in each situation. I called them “the four hats” and often asked “What hat shall I put on now?”when people brought up a situation. Most times people adopted it quickly and loved it onwards. In that aforementioned order, the emotional/motivational support from me increases and functional/technical support decreases. I also found a more senior researcher needs the latter hats more.
  • Who else is using George? It’s basically the product areas I manage or mentor UX researchers for. The long list rendered a good empathy from my team members and stakeholders and they used our mutual time effectively and respectfully.
  • Time & Bandwidth. I’m an early bird in the office every morning, but I religiously save the dinner time and weekends to my family. Making it clear saved me from the back-and-forth meeting rescheduling, and helped me keep a so-far-very-good work-life balance. I tried my best to stay within just one email, text message, or phone call from them. It’s a big commitment but so far very rewarding. :)
  • Give him feedback. In the end, I added the channels they can give me candid feedback.

Write your User’s Manual, if you like, no matter you’re a manager, a tech lead or an individual. Let me know how it works, and how it doesn’t.

To User’s Manual of a human being, I’m all ears.

Thanks for reading it!

Below is a screenshot of my User’s Manual with some parts erased off on purpose.(Again, if you’re working at Uber, feel free to contact me to obtain a copy.)



George Zhang

Global Head of Product Design, Brightly a Siemens Company. Formerly Google, Uber, Intel, Course Hero. Received Ph.D in I/O psychology.