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Reflections on my first 6 months at AZA Finance: The lessons, the challenges, the mistakes

6 months ago, I accepted a job offer from AZA Finance as a Senior Product Designer and little did I know what a rollercoaster of a journey it would be.

Before that, I worked at a Product and Research consultancy firm. A consultancy environment that gave me the opportunity to work with a wide range of different products and collaborated with a diverse team of amazing researchers and design leads. Through these experiences, I learnt how to lead and manage a team. All of which I was eager to apply to my new role at AZA Finance.

Here I am, 6 months down the line, trying to make sense of and evaluate my experience at AZA Finance.

Day 1: Approaching the new role with a growth mindset

Somehow I thought I could grasp everything within the first day of onboarding – the lies we tell ourselves. On the contrary, I’m yet to understand everything the fintech industry entails. Reading articles, watching videos and attending webinars that pertain to this industry and my role has helped me understand it better.

Another thing that has helped me get smoothly acclimated to the team was asking questions. There is a lot to learn as a new hire — from how to do your job effectively to how the organization works.

I worried a lot about how everything was going to settle in and how I would start my work – Luckily the Business Operations team had everything figured out, from the minute I signed up starting from the company directory to the last meeting with my line manager. There was even a set budget for my coffee y’all, no kidding, these guys had everything in place!

Week 1: Meeting my onboarding buddy

Source: Markus Spiske, Unsplash

AZA Finance is very understanding that people’s ways of working and getting settled are different and everyone needs different time.

When you join, you get your own personal buddy – someone who helps you to settle in so you don’t get confused with all the procedures. This is extremely helpful to get comfortable and learn everything about the company, structure, workflows and how people communicate across the diverse countries we operate.

Meeting my buddy, he is so patient with me and let’s just say, he has become my go-to person for quick office tips and biashara here and there (my Nairobi behaviour is showing). He is one of those cool designers; witty, funny and gets along with everyone! Through him, I learnt what was going on in the company. 

And not just him, the whole team was incredibly helpful throughout my onboarding process. Everyone gave me a demo of what they were working on. I also had a chance to go through all AZA Finance platforms and familiarize myself thoroughly with the products before being thrown to the deep end (in my opinion this is one of the best ways to get quickly acquainted).

Month 1: Making peace with not knowing everything 

I joined the organisation with vast knowledge of Product Development research, Analysis and the mother of them all – a good understanding of the human-centred Design processes, with a superhero mentality.

My previous background helped a lot, but there has been a lot of learning and relearning., especially how to ensure that every change we make on the product is signed off by the compliance team- they make sure we stay on the right side of the financial rules and the grandmother of all wisdom. 

In fact, the entire product development process at AZA Finance involves having a sit down with all stakeholders to understand their requirements, discovery and coming up with an MVP in a nutshell.. My contribution to this process is to allow stakeholders to see the other side of the product and show them the customer is using these products. It is really fulfilling seeing stakeholders and business leads take part in user interviews and question their own product hypothesis and seeing all that come to life in the product.

On the more personal side, I was also encouraged to focus on my personal growth. During my one month review, my manager asked me to reflect on how well I was settling in and what values I held dear. On the back of our conversation, I came up with some values that reflected what is important to me. The values helped me understand what success meant to me and how to enjoy meaningful work. For example, my core values are continuous learning, personal growth, and making a difference. Having that knowledge empowered me to make decisions more confidently. I highly recommend doing a Personal Values Assessment to understand how values influence you.

Month 3: Staying positive and iterating

Even with all the support from my peers and the organisation, the experience was very daunting. I felt like the ocean was catching up with me and somehow that led to me making some mistakes that could have been avoided. 

Was I scared? Of course, I didn’t feel great, but AZA Finance has a system in place to help new hires navigate through the errors and give room to iterate and evolve to be the best version.

AZA Finance understands that perfection is the enemy of progress, working as a team produces good results, and experiments make work even more fun. And the memes, of course!

Month 6: Speaking less, listening more, and getting comfortable with saying ‘No’

I am closing in on month six and things are starting to feel somewhat familiar. I’ve come to learn that people want to feel and be heard – stop waiting for your chance to speak but really listen. Sometimes, it is as simple as that.  Give room for other people to communicate what they are thinking. This helps generate better ideas for a particular problem.

I encourage listening to and incorporating other people’s ideas since we are all working towards the same goal. This, in turn, increases team morale and makes it easy to work on a project as a unit.

It is also important to learn how to deal with the not-so-fun sides of the role, which in my case, is the pressure of sitting in countless meetings. As much as these meetings are important, they leave no room to do the actual work. How have I dealt with that? My manager has one rule: don’t accept a meeting without an agenda. Also, ensure that IF the meeting requires slides and notes they are sent beforehand. This has helped the team use their time more efficiently and maintain a sense of freedom when it comes to working hours.

Conclusion

What a ride!

It’s okay to make mistakes, don’t overthink, be yourself and ask for help if need be.

Source: Tim Mossholder, Unsplash

I’ve learned a ton at my job in the past 6 months (including about myself and my priorities). Here are the top four lessons I will take with me to the next six months of my journey at AZA Finance:

  1. There’s power in diversity and feeling authentic in being yourself.
  2. Never shy away from learning from your colleagues. This will help you broaden your perspective on leadership and empower you to be the best you can be.
  3. Turn confusion into curiosity; we all have inherent tendencies as well as areas for development. Take this and reiterate to confirm your intuitions. Investigate more options until you get to your ‘aha’ moment.
  4. Speak more clearly, address a problem as soon as it occurs and as my colleague Jigi mentioned the other day, treat others how you want to be treated.

Written by:
Elizabeth Kagimbi
Senior Product Designer, Nairobi

AZA Finance

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