Ask me anything: DesignOps Edition

Dave Malouf
May 15 · 5 min read

This is a new “column” I’m going to do monthly, where I invite people on Twitter to ask me questions on anything on Design Operations (DesignOps) and I’ll do my best to answer directly or point ppl to others who have answered it better than I could already.

And away we go …

Hi Nick Cochran, There are all sorts of metrics. An article on the topic just came out today by Arturo Leal, called “DesignOps: What can we measure?”. It is a nice solid read on how he is doing measurement at Dell. A great repeatable framework, too. I also wrote a piece on Measuring DesignOps, myself which takes a slightly different take on measurement. Less about KPIs and more about success assessment.

When using metrics be careful to not fall into the trap of Vanity Metrics, that don’t really tell you if you are increasing or decreasing value creation within the design organization.

So you asked for things to measure. Here are the ones that I go to time and time again:

  • Time spent (not) designing
  • Baseline quality [of anything you want]
  • Exposure hours to users
  • Time spent collaborating with stakeholders
  • Designer retention; e.g. # of designers who stay past 2 years.
  • Engagement assessments (e.g. from services like Culture Amp)
  • Percent of deployed app representing designer intent within a sprint, or delivery period.
  • Number of deployments usability tested before going out to end-users live.
  • Create and monitor SLAs around research recruitment, and execution.
  • Track insights thru to deployment and further to impact/outcome.

I hope this helps.

Next up …

Oh man! Jorge! How I wish this was easy to answer. But your main issue when in that phase of “Problem-Solution Fit” is probably more focused on discovery than on delivery. Setting up a Dual-Track model where you can focus on discovery with a product owner and lead developer would be key. I think the mistake a lot of startups make at this stage, is that they focus on delivery as their sole method of hypothesis validation. The design system of problem framing and solving offers alternatives. This can help you keep your devs focused on delivering code — debt, escalations, bug fixes, older validated hypotheses— instead of creating experiments.

I’d also want to make sure that I hire designer(s) who are senior, hands-on, scrappy, and generalists. But you need to make sure your hiring methods and practices are strong in order to do that. Many startups in this phase don’t hire as well as they need to.

There is probably a lot more to be done here at this phase w/ designOps, but I’m imagining that most it is pretty bespoke to the context of the startup beyond maturity stage, such as values, geography, remote or not, team history, strategies, etc.

The hits keep coming …

Unfortunately, I don’t have a great answer for this one because I think there are too many variables to outsourcing and hiring for design. I would need more clarity on the question before I can give a valuable answer.

Probably though the biggest operational concern I’ve heard from most people about outsourcing/contracting or just plain FTE hiring is figuring out how to choose between the two options, and when should you hire anyone at all. The question of capacity planning is an old project management question and there are a ton of books on the topic. But to understand even the basics of capacity planning, you need to be able to scope work, or just have some general rules about teams and projects/programs, such as a ratio between engineers or developers with designers/researchers.

Last but not least …

I get this a lot from design operations doubters, which I don’t think Joāo is necessarily speaking of. But what is the distinction between DesignOps and Design Management? The answer is simple and confusing. First from a person in a role perspective, there can be no difference at all. DesignOps is a collection (a large one) of activities. If a Design Manager can manage their current scale of needs, then it is the same person. This is akin to a small startup hiring a generalist designer who can do their own research, visual design, coding, IA, and IxD. But as the organization grows, they may start seeing value in separating some of those activities out one by one.

At some point you may see your design organization have researchers, graphic designers, creative technologists, content strategists/IAs, and product designers/IxDs. At which point you also might want to start scaling your practice management or design operations practice to manage the scale of people and management layers you’ll start to face. As a design manager or director you need to manage your focus to stay on the work, and the relationships needed to get that work done. So you’ll need to delegate key portions of what you did before at smaller scales:

  • PeopleOps: hiring, onboarding, training & development, exiting.
  • Program Mngt: managing delivery of value
  • Culture: creating values and principles and the rituals that will embody them, and help turn them into governance models.

Where a Design Manager is focused on their specific team for a specific book of work, the DesignOps Leader will broaden their focus to include all the teams of designers, their stakeholders, and customers in a horizontal way in order tool, smooth, and guide the team towards success.

In June …

Stay tuned for a call for DesignOps Questions of the Month on twitter. Just follow me there.

Well, I hope this was as fun for you all as it was for me. June is a hot month for me, with 4 workshops coming up in Manchester (Sold Out), Tel Aviv, DC (private event), and NYC.Possible upcoming in July is Vancouver; stay tuned. September I’ll be in Helsinki; in October I’ll be in Colombia, In November I’ll be in India. I can also be wherever you want me to be, so feel free to send a private response here to learn more.

Amplify Design

Amplifying your design team’s value through design operations (DesOps)

Dave Malouf

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Dave Malouf is a design leader who helps teams provide the greatest value to their customers and host organizations.

Amplify Design

Amplifying your design team’s value through design operations (DesOps)