3 Myths about DesignOps

3 Myths about DesignOps
Photo by UX Store / Unsplash

Introduction

Ever come across a design team that doesn’t seem to get the job done smoothly and on time? If yes, they probably need a DesignOps support! Many companies are now hiring DesignOps and here’s why.

Starting with the basics, DesignOps refers to the orchestration and optimization of people, processes, and craft in order to amplify the design's value and impact at scale. For example, if a company has to deal with designs that are either too many or too complicated, the DesignOps would provide solutions by removing obstacles through planning, managing and effective collaboration to help them reach their targets. DesignOps is a collective term for addressing challenges such as growing and evolving design teams and acquiring the right talent for their specific needs.

A recent study surveyed 557 experts actively working in the industry, asking them to define DesignOps in their own words. Out of the 557 professionals, 31 either admitted their lack of awareness or provided answers that were too ambiguous or nonsensical to be included in the study, while the remaining 243 respondents similarly did not appear to have basic awareness and understanding to answer the research question. However, the awareness of the DesignOps field is expected to grow eventually as this emerging field expands its reach in the market.

All things considered, DesignOps is a fairly nascent field. Lots of teams are still figuring out what DesignOps means for them and how it can bring value to their organizations. And for those in the early stages of their DesignOps journey, there are a few misconceptions that might stir up some confusion. These misconceptions tend to stem from the lack of understanding about what DesignOps really is, and also the misguided attempt to pigeonhole it into something really specific. So, let’s set the record straight and do some DesignOps myth-busting.

Myth # 1: DesignOps = Design Management

One pervasive myth is that DesignOps equals design management; or that those two things are the same. In reality, there may be order between these roles, but a dedicated design professional and a design manager have different primary focus areas. By relieving the designers of complexities of the logistics, DesignOps recentralizes the designed process to focus on the craft. DesignOps functions within these organizational models in a variety of ways, with the ultimate goal of effectively defining roles, responsibilities, and outcomes for designers and managing performances. Though many design managers are most likely doing some level of DesignOps as part of their work responsibilities, even if it’s not labeled as such.

DesignOps is more than just a buzzword trending in the design industry. The most important aspect to note about DesignOps is that it functions to develop the overall design infrastructure by implementing the best practices at scale that benefits the company, especially its department responsible for design roles. DesignOps encompasses a much wider landscape than the typical management activities of overseeing workflow, people management, scaling and enhancing the processes, tools and methods.

The function of DesignOps focuses on optimizing design processes. The addition of a DesignOps function represents not only a structural but also a cultural transformation. As awareness of the design process matures, it is no longer thought beneficial to segregate multiple teams. The DesignOps team is responsible for supporting collaboration between designers, developers, researchers, and other team members during the design process. They construct highly integrated and effective design teams.

Design Management VS DesignOps

Did you know that many people in the design industry including UXers have yet to know what DesignOps actually means? Let us clarify.

Design management: The job description of Design Managers is more generalized in comparison with DesignOps. Design managers are responsible to oversee the design process to make sure the internal and external design teams deliver the company’s or client's expectations. Their role includes supervising the design process to make sure the designs are high quality, have no errors and are produced before the deadline. They also keep themselves updated with the current codes of practice in the profession or any changes in the legislation that might affect their practice.

DesignOps: is based around standardizing, optimizing and managing the design process but with a few major differences. Their governance is more focused on making the design process more sustainable and establishing or developing methods using a defined set of rules that are well-documented to save the projects from going in the wrong direction. Apart from developing and redesigning methods, they look after and provide the necessary designing tools across teams. Their primal role is to save design teams from non-design-related and administrative tasks and to upscale design practice and discipline’s reach and impact.

In fact, the DesignOps practice or role can be defined by but not restricted to these 6 main categories:

1. Standardize

2. Enable and support designers

3. Scale design’s reach and impact

4. Increase productivity

5. Enable alignment and collaboration

6. Produce better quality work

Myth # 2: DesignOps Has To Be A Specialized Role

Another myth is that DesignOps has to be a specialized role, that in other words, you can’t be doing DesignOps if you don’t have DesignOps in your title. That’s not true.

Anyone can do DesignOps, and yes, while larger, more mature DesignOps practices do have specialized roles and formalized teams; the value and impact of design at scale can be amplified via careful planning and execution of the individual aspects involved in the design process. Those that make it in the DesignOps industry are those who are adept at project management and can rally their teams to achieve their goals. DesignOps team leads need an in-depth familiarity with design processes, software, and hardware in order to effectively manage their teams. Success in the DesignOps community, and the possibility of becoming a leader within it, is vastly expanded by a person's ability to communicate and collaborate effectively with others.

Honestly, not every organization needs dedicated DesignOps roles. Many times, design managers or leads already managed design Ops tasks as part of their current job responsibilities, and this approach works well for some organizations, as long as those responsibilities are acknowledged as the part of those people's workloads and performance.

A DesignOps leader work closely with the designers to set up and maintain the necessary policies and infrastructure for an organization to achieve its design goals. Inwardly focused, the major goal of this role is to increase team’s output across the whole design process. DesignOps work with project management by spreading internal communications to external teams. The role of DesignOps includes setting up meetings with the marketing and product teams and communicating the resulting tasks to the design team in a way that doesn't go beyond the parameters of the assignment.

DesignOps focus on four pillars:

  • Design process
  • Team coordination
  • Design tools
  • Design culture

Design Process

A DesignOps team streamlines processes to improve productivity. When DesignOps leaders make adjustments to a procedure, they investigate an operation and identify its flaws to improve designers' efficiency and prevent overlap between teams and tasks. The primary role of DesignOps is to establish metrics for success and ensure that designers adhere to them. These measurements are set by the business goals, and DesignOps ensures that their output is reliable by assessing and adjusting designs requirements. By handling logistics like budgeting and hiring. DesignOps allows creative designers more time to focus on what they do best: designing.

The design Ops manager's primary responsibility is project management. They examine the project's timeline and scope, plan daily stand-ups and design sprints, and help designers by preventing requests that could cause delays from being made at the last minute.

Team coordination

Staffing and headcount are both DesignOps' responsibilities. Together, the DesignOps team can better predict future workloads and better allocate available resources. In terms of design, all platforms must be consistent, and unified language allows cross-platform communication among the design teams. The DesignOps team will operate as diplomats, translating design language to other departments, making the design process readily accessible to other teams. They can help establish recruiting needs by assessing how many people and what skills are needed for a given design process.

Continuous onboarding refers to the innovative techniques of hiring and training new employees in the use of your company's succession planning tools and processes. Scheduling regular training sessions for both current staff and new hires is essential to ensure that any new processes or tools are routinely utilized.

Design tools

It is part of the DesignOps role to consider the financial consequences of any decisions made during the design process. The purpose is to establish openness in the distribution of available means. DesignOps also determines which resources are essential for design teams to succeed. By exposing design to previously untapped departments, they increase the company's appreciation for design and raise awareness of its importance; facilitating productive cross-departmental partnerships. The DesignOps group works to eliminate barriers between departments, as well as between disciplines. They provide uniformity in the usage of tools and processes, create new ones, and mandate that designers employ them.

Process design entails overseeing and maintaining existent design systems, such as new means for departments to interact, and ensuring that all necessary tools are updated and working.

Design culture

Successful and effective design teams share a common commitment to a robust design culture. Therefore, DesignOps teams seek to invest in institutionalizing and propagating a design culture as one of their primary objectives. By spreading the gospel of good design throughout the company, DesignOps helps everyone contribute to the progress and efficacy of the designing process. DesignOps identifies skill gaps and recommends training or hiring strategies for a design team. They must also be in charge of bringing new employees up to speed.

As an extension of the onboarding process, Strong Culture and Team Building includes workshops and off-site professional development options for employees. It's one of a kind since it promotes interpersonal communication between participants. Everyone on the team gains from the increased mental and emotional challenge.

Myth # 3: DesignOps Should Look The Same From Organization To Organization

A final myth is that DesignOps should look the same from organization to organization. It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t. The shape and focus of design Ops in your organization should come directly from the biggest hurdles designers face that keep them from doing their best work, and it’s likely going to evolve over time.

This flexibility within the design operations has worked for some businesses, but it's not for everyone. Every company has different needs when it comes to its DesignOps handling. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for DesignOps tasks; rather, they must be tailored to the unique requirements of each firm. Building design operations requires a long-term perspective to oversee road-mapping, resource allocation, and user testing.

InVision published "The New Design Frontier," a survey that looked into the relationship between design and the functioning of a business, in 2019. The poll included responses from thousands of unique companies. The study, which was the most in-depth one of its kind, classified businesses into one of five stages of design maturity, from Level One, where designers are only responsible for production-based tasks, to Level Five, where design is deeply ingrained in the overall business strategy.

The capacity to quickly adjust to new circumstances is a crucial skill for any DesignOps manager or leader. New methods, applications, and procedures are routinely introduced to teams. By altering the status quo, DesignOps is able to provide greater benefit yet still profound changes can be made in this field. The ideal DesignOps leader is fluent in both written and verbal communication and works well with others. They should have no trouble communicating with everyone from a junior UX designer to the company's top brass and key stakeholders because they will be hosting workshops, design sprints, and other presentations, they must be comfortable in front of an audience. DesignOps also calls for strong business acumen in the areas of managing finances, communicating with stakeholders, and creating strategies that support the organization's long-term objectives.

DesignOps Framework For Guidance

As a matter of fact, DesignOps of any company is bound not to look identical to another because it is based around the provision of design solutions and development of design strategies to suit the company’s needs and infrastructure. However, if any company looks for a manual or guideline to practically establish a functional DesignOps unit, they can seek help from the following framework that has 3 main components:

1. How we work together

2. How we get work done

3. How our work creates impact

How we work together

The first component of this framework features how the DesignOps empower teams to collaborate effectively and work with shared responsibilities. This starts from understanding the design’s role to executing regular meetings for design work, code of practice and research insights, active and objective recruitment practices, setting measurable milestones with regular assessments of progress to evaluate the team’s strengths and areas with potential for improvement.

How we get work done

Meanwhile, the second component addresses the need to develop advanced processes customized according to the present needs of the department to execute excellent design quality and efficiency in the working of the design team. In addition to this, DesignOps work on establishing design principles according to the current legislature and code of practice, sharing design tools, guides and accessible templates with the concerned team and external partners, distributing and administering tasks without overworking or underworking employees and approximating the required budget and timeline within a practical limit.

How our work creates impact

Lastly, the final component of the framework highlights how DesignOps is able to quantify the progress of design work and implement a reward system for accomplishing measurable goals and share the team’s progress to motivate employees within and even outside the team to actively partake in learning and using design-related activities. The metrics used by the design team are required to be accurate, standardized and measurable. Aside from consistently measuring and documenting the performance quality, DesignOps is responsible for training non-designers and newcomers, spreading awareness of the role and value of design with external partners and across the company, and lead non-designers by actively participating in the design process and user research.

Emphasis on Uniqueness

Therefore, a word of caution; Don’t attempt to directly model your DesignOps efforts, roles, or team structures off of what another company is doing, even if it’s working for them because every company has varying infrastructure and contrasting obstacles to deal with. While using basic guidelines or frameworks for establishing the foundation of DesignOps does not pose any risk of failure, however, companies are still advised to remain open to improvising and incorporating the strategies using insights gathered through objective research on their performance over a significant period of time. So look inside, instead of outside while establishing DesignOps roles for your company for maximum results.

Conclusion

As a catch-all term, "DesignOps" encompasses a wide range of activities aimed at solving problems, such as the development and growth of design teams. The establishment and growth of design teams are two good examples of such actions. Some common misunderstandings may have contributed to the difficulties that were encountered. The idea that "design operations" and "design management" are interchangeable is a common misconception. Even though these tasks are likely to be completed in a specific order, a professional designer's focus will be on different things than a design manager's. The most pressing problems that impede designers from delivering their best work should guide the shape and concentration of design processes. The nature of these difficulties is likely to evolve over time. Most design Ops activities were already being handled by design managers or leaders as part of their regular duties. In most instances, this was true. If these tasks are properly evaluated as part of employees' total workloads, certain businesses may benefit from adopting this technique. The DesignOps team members must be highly specialized in their fields because of the nature of their work. So next time you are actively shaping DesignOps roles or practices in your organization, just remember our three shattered DesignOps myths.

1. DesignOps isn’t just design management.

2. Anybody can do DesignOps and a lot of people are doing it.

3. DesignOps practices can take loads of different shapes.