Ah the beautiful city of Amsterdam, I had the chance for a quick visit back in late March.
What are DesignOps and when is it time to build a team around it? As companies mature and invest in design, they need to operationalize workflow, hiring, alignment between teams, and more so designers can focus on design work while someone else takes care of the rest — enter DesignOps. They’re the key to scaling digital product design teams with more efficiency, but the craft of a DesignOps team is a process. Below are some of the key things to keep in mind when you start to build out your team.
Know when to put DesignOps processes into place
It can be hard to gauge when to ramp up a DesignOps function, but three scenarios are good triggers:
- Craft specialization: it’s no longer feasible for roles to blur
- Operating a design team at scale: it’s no longer possible to keep everyone in sync
- Safe harbor: designers need protection from the grind and thrash of creative development.
What makes a great DesignOps leader?
The most effective DesignOps teams are servant leaders to their organizations and respected peers to design leaders and teams. Whether in an operations or project support role, the DesignOps function is there to push projects forward while providing creative teams the space and time to create.
Design program managers should be able to set expectations with the broader company, get the right people with the right skills on the right projects, scope phases, and manage those expectations to delivery.
Hiring the perfect team
Regardless of the situation, there are some universal qualities and skills to look for in a DesignOps candidate:
- Hire someone who can build cross-functional relationships while representing design, and who understands the design process. These relationships will necessitate understanding the product development process and product engineering principles.
- The role calls for an excellent project, time, budget, and resource management, and an understanding of different project management ideologies (like waterfall and Agile, among others)
- The ideal candidate is calm in ambiguous and changing environments. One size doesn’t fit all.
Make the mission clear
Well-written mission, vision, and value statements can unify and inspire design teams. Think of these as the glue that brings and holds teams together — they’re great resources to be used within the design organization during onboarding and recruiting, and during those times when designers need guidance to tackle a tricky problem or scenario. These statements should also be shared with cross-functional teams as a reference to better understand how the design organization aspires to operate, solve problems, and define success.
Collaborating outside of the design team
Relationships are so crucial to successful outcomes for both design and DesignOps. When tackling any design challenge, whether it’s designing a new product experience or designing a new process, identify key cross-functional partnerships and stakeholders who can spot the opportunities for design to provide the most value. Establishing and fostering strong cross-functional partnerships ensures that all possible solutions are surfaced by balancing the user experience with business needs and company goals.
Helping others get comfortable with change
Managing through chaos is a superpower and flexibility is the most valuable asset. Change is inevitable and happens on all levels at all scales. When working in DesignOps, teams are on the front lines, helping everyone do outstanding work amid the chaos and rapid change. DesignOps keeps design teams focused on the work, not the processes. As everything is subject to change—from the company level down to the individual pixel—it’s important for DesignOps to remain calm and collected.
By talking to an extended group of stakeholders, leaders can gauge where the organization stands and determine the strengths, weaknesses, biggest problems, and biggest opportunities.