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Designing efficient teams

Positioning and introducing DesignOps in your teams’ lives.


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Pat B

3 years ago | 5 min read

Yes, DesignOps is a thing. And it is growing fast, establishing itself as an emerging function that actively supports teams and organisations to scale through the design of efficient Design teams.

DesignOps’ focus is to increase operational and spending efficiencies by understanding, analysing, and optimising the E2E design processes to deliver value to the design teams, the design leaders, and the business.

Value of course is different for each of these stakeholders and this is where strategic thinking and the ability to assess impact and weighting opportunities becomes essential.

It’s known that knowledge workers may spend up to 60% of their time doing nondesign tasks just to fill the inefficiencies. This has a significant impact on both productivity and morale: a designer wants to do great design and having to execute mundane tasks that are needed to enable them to do their design is not a good way to maximise their impact and ensure quality.

So if the value for a designer is efficiency, streamlined E2E processes, availability of tools that can support their work, adequate communication, an open and creative working environment, and a great culture, value is different for the design leaders.

For them, the real value is the ability to deliver quality at speed, execute roadmaps and strategies efficiently, grow the team members, reduce churn, ensure teams are running smoothly, and increase the impact of design within the organisation to be able to scale up.

On the other hand, the biggest value for the business is a combination of spending efficiency and increased quality of work with a clear impact on customer and business metrics: design has a huge role when it comes to NPS, CSAT, PRS, CES.

DesignOps is constantly weighting and balancing the needs of design teams, design leads, and the business to define the top priorities in 7 main areas:
⁃ Teams
⁃ Tools
⁃ Budget
⁃ Workflows
⁃ Communication and culture
⁃ Data governance and research
⁃ E2E processes, including cross functional and cross geo engagement models.

At a first sight, this list with DesignOps’ areas of responsibilities looks similar to those of design leads, and this is where tension and confusion arise regarding who are and why DesignOps are needed in an organisation.

So, where does designOps stand?

DesignOps’ unit of work are not individuals, but teams: while the design lead is in charge of the team members, DesignOps looks at the team as a whole to assess and understand how the team is performing as a unit.

DesignOps focuses on team assessment to understand the strengths and opportunities of each team and to identify ways to support the growth of the teams and ensure all core skills are present.

The team aspect is probably a critical one: it is not unusual that when a DesignOps is introduced in the organisation, design leaders get confused and tend to push DesignOps into a more programme manager’s role due to the limited clarity over the sphere of influence of each function.

Although Design Programme Managers (DPMs) are essential, they are the executor and contributor of the strategy (see here).

While DesignOps is a strategic role that defines mid and long term roadmaps and priorities with clear business KPIs to increase operational, performance, and spending efficiencies, DMPs are the executors that ensure that targets are met and strategies and actions are successfully rolled out.

Getting started with DesignOps

DesignOps’ focus is on creating efficiencies and efficiencies can only be created if there is a deep understanding of the overall E2E design processes and a clear identification of existing inefficiencies.

For this reason, the very first step to implement designOps in the organisation is doing a thorough 360 degrees assessment of the state of the art that looks at:
What is happening in the teams?
How are teams spending their time?
How is the budget being spent?
How are design teams interacting with the business?
How is the business interacting with Design and designers?
Do teams have all they need to do their job in a positive and inspiring environment?

A map the E2E process, informed by data collected through a mix of surveys and conversations is the single most important step to kick off any DesignOps programmes.

These data, combined with a spending review, an analysis of the workflows and the tools’ analytics, provide invaluable insights to identify the biggest pain points and support the definition of a 12 months’ strategy to deliver the biggest impact for the business, the design leaders, and the teams.

This assessment is a major and crucial effort when it comes to DesignOps: the annual evaluation dictates the actions and priorities that need to be taken to increase the quality of the work, the impact of design within the organisation, the teams’ performance and morale, and the spending efficiency.

This assessment is critical and it is a key effort, requiring months of data collection and analysis, but it is this knowledge shared with the design leads that will create the synergies and the clarity to establish the relationships with key stakeholders and the positioning of DesignOps within the organisation.

The assessment is essential to have meaningful conversations and establish solid collaboration with the stakeholders, who often lack the data and the insights that these assessments will provide.

DesignOps is the function that supports organisations to have highly performing teams: because efficient design teams do not happen, they are designed, and this is the role of DesignOps.

And this does not overlap with design leaders’ role, it complements it so that design directors can focus on the craft aspect, the individuals’ growth, the positioning of Design within the organisation, knowing that more operational aspects are being taken care of.

This is where the partnership between DesignOps and design leaders becomes the opportunity to scale up teams and to elevate design to more strategic functions.

And this is where the collaboration and constant alignment between DesignOps and design leads is crucial: all DesignOps roadmaps and initiatives need to be coordinated and managed with the team leaders to maximise impact and results and to join efforts to focus on the priorities that will deliver the biggest value to all.

Because happy designers create awesome design which will make happy customers. And happy customers will ultimately make happy shareholders and business stakeholders.

Generating this virtual cycle is DesignOps.

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