How to kick-start and improve your design operations

One of the biggest challenges for design managers is enabling their team to focus on design, rather than the processes and workflows that surround it. If designers aren’t under pressure to update on their progress every five minutes, they can be free to create the amazing work that keeps clients coming back for more. 

As businesses grow and design solutions and tools become more complex, there needs to be a robust infrastructure in place to support the critical systems and processes that are happening behind the scenes. This is where DesignOps (also known as Design Operations) comes in. DesignOps refers to the activities and people that keep the design team functioning at the highest efficiency possible. The plans, resources, processes, tasks and workflows that allow for a smooth product development cycle  - making sure everything runs on time, and on budget. 

Sound like something your business needs? Here’s how it works. 

How to get started with DesignOps

Your strategy for efficient DesignOps practices depends on a number of factors. These include the size and scale of your business, your IT infrastructure, the kinds of work you produce, the challenges you face, your budget and your goals. 

It’s an evolving process and your team structure and resource allocation will change over time. But first you need to get started. Here are some things to consider to help you on your way: 

Defining roles and responsibilities

DesignOps is about creating harmony within design departments. Deciding who does what, when and how is an integral part of this. 

Ideally there should be one person who focuses solely on operations. Then, as the design team grows they can be supported by additional members of staff. One who is dedicated to improving ways of working and another who looks after recruitment and role allocation, for example.

Make sure everyone understands what is expected of them by mapping out each activity, benchmark and milestone in your business. This includes detailed information about responsibility, accountability and who needs to be kept informed and at what stages. 

Identifying and addressing skills gaps

As businesses scale, they tend to be subject to increased scrutiny. This, coupled with the move towards more efficient design operations with greater requirements for stakeholder management, research capabilities and information architecture often highlights knowledge or skills gaps in the team. You can address this by doing the following:

  • Identify the type of skills and personal strengths you have in your team, and what are missing. 
  • Explore opportunities for knowledge sharing or training that can help you upskill the team, while controlling costs. 
  • Create development paths for designers to help them grow.
  • Review recruitment processes to ensure you’re in the best position to hire the right designers and retain top talent. Make sure the selection process includes relevant members of staff, where possible.

Creating a positive culture

DesignOps requires an agile approach and the structure and goals will change over time. As you evolve and grow, it’s important to create an open and constructive feedback culture where opinions, challenges and recommendations can be shared and acted upon. By making areas for improvement explicit you help your team to thrive. You also ensure that your design operations are optimised and your business objectives and strategy are aligned. 

Establishing effective ways of working

Now that we have the DesignOps team in place, it’s time to explore the best ways to get the work done. If your design operations are split over multiple product teams it is particularly important to create a cohesive plan that considers all stakeholders needs and objectives. Furthermore, having clear priorities about what your team is working on helps spread your resources more efficiently.  

Through a series of collaborative workshops you can define the design process and develop templates to help you better organise and centralise information, improve productivity, reduce duplication of work and create resource efficiencies. 

At this stage you should also think about a way of working for documentation, and how to deal with versioning. If you notice the team is doing a lot of repetitive work, it’s a signal that you’ll probably benefit from a more established design system and/or setting up a shared design vision with design principles. This helps the team to work more efficiently, as you’ll have already thought through the workflows and how to facilitate the wider design processes. 

How the work creates impact

When the hard work has been put in, it's important to take time to measure and recognise your successes. Not only does this mean you can celebrate what you have achieved, and assess what worked and what didn’t - it also provides a forum for capitalising on the wins. 

Now’s the time to revisit the goals you established earlier and measure them against your definition of project or goal completion. You can then set new targets and benchmarks to create momentum. As the cycle of objectives and impacts evolves, you’ll be able to identify and implement additional training needs, test new tools and seek out other areas for improvement.  

The impact of all your hard work must be shared with your colleagues, stakeholders and, where appropriate, your clients. Try organising feedback sessions, public or internal demos, newsletters, and other events to share your success stories and your learnings. These activities help to boost motivation, increase engagement and show your team you appreciate their dedication.

"DesignOps is an ever-evolving set of goals and targets, skill sets and tools, processes and systems, challenges and successes."

Conclusion

We mentioned earlier that your DesignOps strategy and tactics will depend greatly on the nature of your business, your clients and who you have on your team. One thing that is consistent across all businesses is that it is often too much work for one person alone. In order to succeed - really succeed - you need a specialist for each part of your design operations. One who is dedicated to hiring and personal development; another who focuses on improving and standardising the design process and so on. 

Keep your long-term ambitions in mind, but start small. Prioritise your most pressing pain points then move on to the others. Don’t expect to fix everything at once and try to avoid treating DesignOps like a project that will one day reach completion. DesignOps is an ever-evolving set of goals and targets, skill sets and tools, processes and systems, challenges and successes. You could compare it to product design and development, in that there is always room for improvement if you want the product alive and for it to continue to serve the needs of a changing audience. 

Thriving businesses and people do not stand still. They develop, evolve, experiment, adapt and change. Be the business that grows, not the one that stagnates. 

Discover the benefits for your organisation

Contact us today to find out how Hike One can help you set up and streamline your design operations.

Get in touch with David van Duinen (Partner & Sales Director)

+31 (0) 646243149
davidvanduinen@hike.one

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