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Scaling The Design Function Efficiently With DesignOps
Webinar: Scaling The Design Function Efficiently With DesignOps

On the 20th of October, 2022, Cubyts hosted a webinar on the topic “Scaling The Design Function Efficiently With DesignOps”.

This was the second part of a series of informative webinars that we have undertaken to showcase the importance of DesignOps and how you can use it to effectively scale your business.

This webinar is the culmination of personal experience and learnings from 200+ conversations on scaling design functions from people around the globe. Our speaker Shashank Deshpande, with over 30+ years of creative experience had some extremely valuable insights to share with us. 

Here’s everything we discussed in the webinar:

  • The common challenges businesses face when it comes to design,
  • What we’re missing as a business, 
  • The DesignOps recipe, 
  • How you can scale your design functions efficiently with DesignOps.

With that said, let’s get into everything this webinar had to offer.

Challenges that design managers face

The conversations ranged from small, medium, and large organizations to design digital consulting companies and we noticed a pattern of opportunities and challenges that almost all design managers faced.

Here are 5 challenges that most design managers faced when asked about it.

1. Demand for growth

Every design manager’s major challenge was the need for rapid growth, owing to the huge demand for design from the business side.

The worldwide demand for designers and researchers has shot through the roof in the last two years, and it’s been difficult for businesses to match that level of upscaling. The need for more people, increased coverage, and specialized skills are the result of increased demand.

If you take a moment and do a quick LinkedIn search for designers, you’re likely to find over 25,000 odd jobs that are available. 

In fact, according to Forrester, the 2022 design market is valued at USD 162 billion, with the demand for designers going up 10x over the last two years.

demand for growth

We believe the reason that businesses are having a tough time managing a very rapidly growing function is that the organizational glue that is critical for a growing function is missing.

2. Design maturity is still low

Before we get into the challenge itself, let’s look a quick look at the 5 levels of design maturity.

Design maturity is the level at which design is operating within your business. Your organization might be at one of 5 different levels, depending upon its culture and the best practices it follows.

The 5 levels of design maturity are as follows:

levels of design maturity

Now, what was the challenge? InVision did a study analyzing 2,200 companies from 77 countries and found that only a mere 5% of the companies empowered design for the greatest benefits, with 41% of them having significant room for growth.

InVision study

Most of the people we spoke to were operating at level 1 or level 2, with very few operating at level 3. All of them want to grow, but doing so with discipline and structure has proven to be a challenge.

3. Missing strategic alignment

One of the indicators of low design maturity is alignment with the business function – understanding goals, directions, and positioning. 

More often than not, this strategic direction is missing, resulting in very tactical and misaligned projects. 

As a DesignOps manager, ensuring that you and your team are aligned with the business goals is critical. You need to be able to align every project to the larger business objectives.

These goals could be anything from reaching the market to building new features to targeting a new customer base. Every initiative and project should start with the business vision.

The key note to remember is that business functions do not equal design functions. Rather, they need to work in tandem with each other to achieve part of a bigger goal.

Most organizations were missing vision, management, and governance resulting in low revenues, margins, and positioning.

4. Time spent on non-design activities

Every company we spoke to highlighted the amount of time designers spend on non-design activities as another major challenge in scaling.

Designers spend about 15 hours a week on operational aspects. While some of them are important such as building team competencies and enhancing skills, most of the operational tasks interrupted the time they spent on the actual project.

These tasks are work that is required for coordination, collaboration, communication, and reporting, all of which take up a substantial amount of time.

These businesses need to focus on critical resources and tools to automate or eliminate routine tasks in an attempt to increase productivity and efficiency while reducing operational interruptions. 

5. Remote and distributed teams

Most businesses talked about how they have a large remote workforce and that’s throwing up a new challenge.

An MIT study showed that distributed teams bring down efficiency and the effectiveness of working together. This distribution also resulted in a lack of standardization and consistency among teams.

remote and distributed teams

Doing a structured job of strategizing things leading to inconsistency is becoming a huge challenge for DesignOps managers. 

Cubyts performed a survey at the DesignOps Summit 2022 in September, asking over 100+ participants what their long-term goal as a DesignOps manager was.

Cubyts study

You can see from the graph that almost all of them have the right idea for scaling their design functions as a team and organization.

Then,

What are we missing?

Let’s take a look at how other departments have solved these problems to figure out what we are missing in the design space.

Every function needs effective operations

If you look at all other departments, you’ll see that they each have their own operational tools. PeopleOps, DevOps, and ResearchOps are a few examples that come to mind. 

These tools have helped them manage their functions effectively and allow them to seamlessly collaborate with other functions.

Now, look at the design function. We only have tools that aid in prototyping and research, but nothing for managing our end-to-end processes or demonstrating the value we bring. All the design tools are very isolated and relate to non-design functions such as product management, engineering, or support. 

We need standardized tools that are built for design functions.

Incompatible playgrounds

In line with the previous point, many businesses and design leaders have tried to bring order to this chaos by adopting tools and platforms (Jira, Asana, Trello, etc.) that aren’t built for design functions. 

To understand this, we need to look at our workflow against those of development functions, for instance. 

designops and devops

DesignOps focuses on activity, workflow, and experience, and are driven by design metrics which are very different from engineering metrics. 

Businesses are using DevOps tools for DesignOps, making it hard for design managers to communicate and adapt to these tools effectively, leading to near-fatal design maturity and causing a diminished design impact.

What is the DesignOps recipe?

A few years back, the NN Group proposed a simple and elegant model that we could all use to understand the purpose of DesignOps and follow what it aims to achieve.

designops recipe

It’s essentially a triad that addresses:

  • How we work together – Collaborate and organize
  • How we get work done – Standardize and manage
  • How our work creates impact – Measure and communicate

If you can make this flywheel work by orchestrating and optimizing your team, data, and activities, you’ll have a system that will work for all your projects and for whomever you deliver it to, be it the internal stakeholders or the external customer.

At their core, a designer’s job is the design execution, but there’s so much more happening in the background that accelerates them to achieve it, and that’s where DesignOps comes in.

How to scale design functions efficiently with DesignOps

DesignOps increases a designer’s time with design executions by reducing their involvement with the operational side and enables other functions to scale with design certainty and confidence.

All these years we have been doing a lot of DesignOps tasks without realizing that we’re doing them, but actively engaging in it and freeing up designers from the operational tasks have shown tremendous improvement.

With that in mind, we spoke about four key elements that aid in efficiently scaling design functions.

scaling design functions

Let’s take a look at each of them individually.

Standardize everything

Many people think of design systems when you mention standardization, but we believe it holds power only when you go beyond design systems.

We need to standardize everything under how we work together. These include

  • Processes and tools
  • Activities and deliverables
  • Best practices and templates
  • Roles and competencies
  • Design UX KPIs
  • Governance and reporting

The more you standardize, the more you create consistent workflows, especially in a remote setup. We’ve seen a lot of companies who’ve benefited from standardized workflows that they’re putting together, and there’s a clear correlation between how well you’ve standardized to how well you’ve scaled in the organization.

Leverage collaboration

As we saw earlier, closer collaboration leads to higher performance within teams. When collaboration is done with the right context, how we get work done:

  • Increases involvement and ownership
  • Helps codify interactions and communications
  • Creates opportunities to gamify and incentivize 
  • Defines handshakes with product managers, engineering teams, etc. 

All of these points create an unhindered, collaborative ecosystem that drives workplace performance by a large margin.

Create a centralized organizational knowledge pool

Many of the people we spoke to had trouble organizing, indexing, searching, and reusing design artifacts and content within the team and project.

In most cases, when you go ask a team member where a certain file or wireframe is, you’ll find it scattered across multiple platforms and communication channels which greatly reduces efficiency and time within the team – time that could be used for a better purpose. 

Creating a single source of truth with a common repository of everything your team needs to get work done helps massively. Here’s how.

  • Easier to manage versions and maintain data history
  • Creates a single source of truth for all to use
  • Reduces redundancies
  • Eliminates data silos
  • Builds thought leadership

Ultimately, creating a centralized organizational knowledge pool saves time, reduces cognitive overload, and eliminates data duplication.

Measure and communicate design impact

Design is crucial for products, yes, but it isn’t the only aspect of a business. As we talked about earlier, it’s imperative to align design goals with the overall business goal, but the biggest challenge here is that design is experience-based. 

That is a language that businesses don’t speak. Businesses talk in numbers, value, trends, and deliverables, and in the case of design, nothing succeeds like success stories.

When it comes to measuring and communicating design impact, you need to:

  • Continuously communicate how you create value and impact
  • Work with product managers to choose the right KPIs to target
  • Show the impact through numbers and trends
  • Share success stories and case studies.

At the end of the day, budgets and goodwill are required to scale businesses, and that can be done by communicating and sharing design impact and RoI easily. 

To conclude…

We believe that DesignOps is the way forward for scaling design teams and functions effectively and efficiently.

When you look at what DevOps did for development and engineering functions, the benefits of having an operational side with a common set of tools and platforms to produce better workflows and outcomes are a stark contrast to what they were before the adoption of DevOps.

The same goes for DesignOps. Within the few organizations that have adopted DesignOps into their organizational structure, we’ve seen massive growth in their design functionality. 

It’s time for you to do the same, and Cubyts can help you accelerate the process. 

As a dedicated DesignOps platform, we are designed for design experts and leaders to eliminate inefficiencies in the design workflow, establish design processes, run design projects, and track metrics. 

If you don’t know where to start, you know where to look first. Feel free to request a demo with us to see how we can help scale your design function efficiently with DesignOps.

If you’d like to watch the webinar in its entirety, click on the link to check it out: Scaling the design function efficiently with DesignOps.