DesignOps Strategy – How to Grow the Design Operations Team?
DesignOps has become a crucial operational function for many organizations. Some companies still operate without a dedicated DesignOps practitioner or team, working around bottlenecks and inefficiencies.
According to a 2020 NN Group survey of 557 UX practitioners, “organizations only did 22% of recommended DesignOps efforts, did not have DesignOps-dedicated roles, and had low DesignOps maturity overall.”
This article explores four stages of DesignOps maturity and the goals you should set at each stage to scale and grow your team.
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Stage 0: Nobody is Responsible for DesignOps
For products with small-cross functional teams working together, the motivation for DesignOps is low. Something the NN group calls a “Scattered Team Structure.”
Product managers, design leads, and managers are responsible for various operational activities–hence the Ops work is “scattered” among team members. At his Design Value Conference 2022 talk, Omkar Chandgadkar, Senior UX Designer at Amazon, called this stage “Designing a plane while flying it“ because UX teams operate reactively or tactically rather than strategically.
This was true during the early days of Airbnb, where product teams consisting of designers and engineers worked closely in the same office, interacting and engaging throughout the day. They worked closely and solved operational challenges together, an “all hands on deck” growth strategy.
But Airbnb’s success and growth meant teams separated, and silos emerged–a common problem among fast-growing startups and enterprise organizations.
“…we reached a tipping point where things suddenly became harder. Teams could no longer all fit on the same floor… Access to information, design standards, workstream collisions, and quality issues all became very real problems.” Excerpt from Adrian Cleave’s DesignOps at Airbnb article.
At this stage, Airbnb developed its Design Language System, and DesignOps was born.
Key DesignOps Stage Zero Resources
- How DesignOps Work – The Mindset of Design Operations
- Understanding DesignOps and Its Role in Design Teams
Stage 1: DesignOps team of One
The first stage of DesignOps is what the NN Group calls the “Solitary Team Structure.” DesignOps becomes a team of one dedicated full-time to the role. As Salomé Mortazavi, Director of DesignOps at SiriusXM, points out in her Design Value Conference 2022 talk, “70% of DesignOps departments are a team of one.”
When starting as a DesignOps team of one, Salomé recommends practitioners begin by listening and taking notes. Get to know the people, space, processes, etc.,–in group and one-on-one environments.
This listening approach will expose the company’s organizational and systemic problems. The DesignOps practitioner also builds trust with teams and stakeholders because they can identify and articulate the organization’s issues.
The goal for DesignOps stage one is to identify bottlenecks and issues and prioritize fixes accordingly. Salomé uses a Design Maturity Index to identify issues and themes. Some of these DesignOps must be solved, while others will fall on design leadership.
Key DesignOps Stage One Resources
- DesignOps 101: Guide to Design Operations
- Transitioning from a Product Designer Role into DesignOps
- Research the Problem: How to Get Started with DesignOps
DesignOps Stage 2: Hiring DPMs
Once a practitioner has a few successes and the organization sees value in scaling DesignOps, it’s time to start building your team. NN Group defines this as the “Specialized” DesignOps stage because the practitioner identifies the need for a dedicated team member in specialized areas.
Design program managers (DPMs) are often the first hires when building a DesignOps team. These DPMs might work alongside teams to streamline day-to-day workflows or focus on specific areas like onboarding, tool curation, licensing, etc.
While DesignOps has an impact and solves problems, stage two is still very tactical rather than strategic. The DesignOps team is effective for solving problems and developing short-term solutions, but they don’t have a roadmap or spend little time on long-term goals.
Key DesignOps Stage Two resources
- Tools for DesignOps Specialists
- ROI of DesignOps: All You Need to Know About Quantifying DesignOps’ Impact
- DesignOps Pillar: How We Work Together
Stage 3: Scaling DesignOps
A mature DesignOps team operates under a “Distributed” or “Elevated” structure according to the NN Group’s DesignOps Team Structures. DesignOps leans towards strategic operations with roadmaps, long-term goals, and monitoring project trajectories in these mature structures.
There’s a dedicated DesignOps leader who is inward-looking and process-oriented. In Measuring DesignOps Impact, Associate Design Operations Director at Babylon, Patrizia Bertini summarizes the DesignOps Leader role in five bullet points:
- Mission: the How / the performance
- Focus: End-to-end design process & teams
- KPIs: Team health, spending, & performance metrics
- Deliverables: Ops roadmap & strategy
- Skills: Change management
And the Design Program Manager’s using the same five points:
- Mission: Execute Ops roadmap
- Focus: Align processes to execute
- KPIs: Program metrics
- Deliverables: Blueprints, project status
- Skills: Process & project management
Patrizia Bertini defines three DesignOps areas for intervention:
- Business operations: Managing budgets, resources, and other business-related design functions.
- Workflow and design operations: A holistic view of the end-to-end design process. How do designers get from concept to final product?
- People operations: Considers the human aspect of design teams, like skills development, communication, and culture.
You can watch the webinar about measuring DesignOps on UXPin’s YouTube channel.
Scaling DPMs in a Mature DesignOps Environment
DPMs use frameworks to apply either tactical or strategic strategies for projects. In DesignOps Layers of Impact, Maggie Dieringer uses a “framing and scaling” methodology to determine:
- Where is your time best spent?
- How do you ensure that you’re having the most impact with that time?
Rather than looking for the “right” to do something, Maggie’s framework identifies where DPMs can have the most impact through three framing factors:
- What’s the size of the design team and the state of the organization?
- What type of resourcing and allocation environment are we operating in?
- What level is my primary design partner?
Once Maggie has the answer to these framing factors, she looks at increasing her impact depending on a spectrum of engagement with zoomed-in on one end and zoomed-out on the other:
- Zoomed-in: Working with teams on day-to-day tasks
- Zoomed-out: Advocating, strategy, and planning
Maggie outlines a support DPM trajectory based on her framing factors and level of impact by answering five questions:
- Which activities and environments bring me job fulfillment day-to-day?
- Which activities will have the most impact and influence right NOW on the team I support?
- How can I leverage my partner to work on the things that are important to my career?
- How can I use my team size to influence the desired behavior and engagement?
- Do I thrive doing tactical or strategic activities (or both)?
She also considers:
- Where are you today?
- Where do you want to be?
- Where does your team want to be?
Key DesignOps Stage Three Resources
- DesignOps at Uber: Who Are DPMs and How Do They Create Impact?
- DesignOps vs. Design Leader
- Patrizia Bertini on Medium
- re:Work by Google
- Amplify Design by Dave Malouf
- Nielsen Norman Group on DesignOps
Scaling and Maturing DesignOps With UXPin Merge
As a DesignOps team of one, your time and resources are limited. As you mature, you want to focus on high-level strategies and long-term goals. Ensuring design teams have the tools to grow and scale is crucial for every DesignOps team.
UXPin Merge solves many DesignOps challenges, giving practitioners and DPMs the time to focus on strategic initiatives and creating value. With this technology, you can use your dev’s component library in your design process.
It speeds up prototyping, design handoff and product development. Request access to UXPin Merge and start prototyping with interactive UI elements that are a single source of truth between design and development.