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designops 101

Cubcast Ep.4 – DesignOps 101

If you want to learn the basics of design operations, or DesignOps, what it’s all about, why it matters now, roles and responsibilities, challenges and tools, this is a good episode to start with.

In the fourth episode of Cubcast, our host Raghu once again sits with our co-founders Aurobinda and Shashank to decipher the meaning of DesignOps, its roles, and responsibilities, and why DesignOps matters in today’s design ecosystem. 

This was a particularly long session as we spent around 40 minutes discussing everything there is to DesignOps. With over 3 decades of experience on their hands, Aurobinda and Shashank had tons of valuable insights to share with us on the topic DesignOps 101.

While we won’t be covering everything in this article, here are the key takeaways from this session.

What is DesignOps?

When a business has a small team, there are inherent ways of managing the day-to-day operations of the team. The real operational challenges come when teams grow rapidly. We’re talking teams of over 25+ members.

A number of dimensions come into play when a team is large. The number of customers, projects, people, and team competencies all become significantly large, and the delivery of all these aspects becomes a fairly complex problem to solve. 

While the sheer number of team members becomes an operational challenge, dealing with designers is another add-on. Designers have different ways of doing things to achieve results. 

That’s where DesignOps comes in. DesignOps is how you operationalize design to achieve the business goals that you, your customers, and your stakeholders have come to expect while enabling and empowering designers so they can focus on design.

Why does DesignOps matter now?

Companies have now started to look at design as a commercial differentiator. Many companies have built their design functions over a period of time, and in the last couple of years, we have seen massive growth in the scale of hiring for design.

This growth has resulted in a balance in the ratio of designers to developers, and if there is no framework or structure around it, it’ll become very inefficient to manage. 

A study by Forrester placed the 2022 design market at USD 162 billion and is expected to grow by USD 400 billion more in the next four years. The question now arises, “Are we ready for that kind of growth?”

Without a framework or the right approach, we will not be able to scale design functions the way we want. And by studying the few companies that have adopted DesignOps, we have seen that it has a huge positive impact on an organization. 

How do you organize a large team to collaborate with other non-design functions to achieve the business goals? How do you ensure that you have a common repository of documents and design artifacts? 

As a company scales, so does the complexity of handling the above aspects, and organizations are starting to realize the need for effective DesignOps management.

Roles of DesignOps

Having integrated with numerous people over the years, we can safely consolidate them into four key roles when you look at DesignOps as a function.

First, we have designers who deliver something creative that focuses on a particular product or production.

Secondly, we have design managers who are execution-oriented and try to address how they can achieve what they need to achieve.

Then we have the DesignOps manager which is a relatively new role we’re noticing in the marketplace. Their focus is on how to plan for the design organization and manage these teams. They are more planning-oriented than execution-focused.

Lastly, we have product managers who bridge the gap between your business team, development team, and design team. They are a unique role that can be seen as unrelated to a design function but are definitely a critical part of achieving business goals.

Can DesignOps resolve business challenges?

To understand this, we need to look at some of the challenges that businesses face without DesignOps and that starts with a lot of questions that businesses try to address.

As organizations move from a small design team to using design innovations as part of their strategic decisions, it’s important to realize that there is a larger need to see how this function is managed.

What is the impact it brings to the organization, either to your top-line or bottom-line goals? How do you ensure that there is an alignment with the overall business goals?

If you want to either build a product for a new market or a new geography, or you want to target a new customer, you need to ensure that your entire organization, including design, is aligned with that goal and working towards it.

And most importantly, you ideally want design to be an integrated function where everyone is able to contribute.

When you look at it from the perspective of design challenges, there is a lot that comes into question.

  • What are the invisible design timelines? What is the schedule?
  • What are the metrics you need to measure to identify whether or not the design is of a certain standard? 
  • How do we integrate tools and teams to work together in order to eliminate team frustration?
  • Are the right people being used for certain tasks? Are their skillsets and competencies in tandem with what they’re working on?
  • How do you successfully incorporate design teams into the overall strategic decisions a business makes?

Another major challenge that we have seen businesses face is creating a roadmap and sharing it across teams. The way it is done today is highly inefficient and confusing at the least.

Members use so many different tools to create roadmaps, plans, and projects that it gets hard for everyone to stay on the same page because of how scattered the workflow is. This brings about the frustrating challenge of democratizing and socializing these tools within the organization.

When you look at all these challenges and how DesignOps has impacted businesses positively, the answer is yes, DesignOps can solve business challenges. If we can tie the business visions with the design programs that we run, it can help by

  • Addressing the team’s health, 
  • Giving the team what they want, 
  • Mapping them with their competency to give them the room to deliver on the promised delivery,
  • Identifying ways so that they can be efficient and effective with the design process, 
  • Supporting them by giving them the tools of best practices, 
  • Asking somebody to do something versus telling them how to do it,
  • Enhancing opportunities for multi-disciplinary teams to work together, share their knowledge, and empower each other to deliver nothing but the best.

DesignOps plays a very important role in enabling teams and resolves these business challenges by bringing a lot of maturity into the organization, along with clarity and confidence that is imbibed into the whole organization.

To finish up,

In addition to the above, we also talked about how DesignOps managers and product managers can work together and the tools that are currently being used to manage DesignOps in great detail. 

All in all, we covered a lot of ground with this topic. DesignOps is still a relatively new concept that organizations are looking to adopt and for those who are uncertain about how well it will play into your organization, the answer is certain. 

The few organizations that do have DesignOps imbibed into their work culture have undoubtedly shown great results in the success of their business. Major brands such as Airbnb and Pinterest are best known for making use of DesignOps and we can all see how well that panned out for them.

So if you’re unsure of whether or not you need DesignOps, the answer is a big, fat YES.

If you want to go into more detail, check out the full session on DesignOps 101 right here!