Soon after deploying our own project management’s model in September 2019, we have been developing specific design missions with the purpose of supporting this new model in its success. Whether you’re product design team leader or another key stakeholder, anyone interested in shipping products earlier and its processes will find this article useful.
In September 2019, with the goal of reducing time to market, Dailymotion implemented a new project organization model. To do so “We created two types of mission: the Discovery Mission and the Delivery Mission. The first one lasts for two weeks, the aim being reduce uncertainty and define the work to be potentially done on a Delivery Mission.” By all accounts, this new organization has been successful: more team accountability and more missions hitting the market earlier.
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But soon after implementing the new model, the product design team noticed challenges that made it clear that some aspects of the model needed greater definition. After all, the work of design varies from one project mission to another: “Discovery mission” being the most design-heavy mission, this label lacked the detail that designers needed in order to set product managers’ expectations. Not only that, but this lack of specificity was a huge missed opportunity to identify projects’ maturity, articulate each mission’s scope, facilitate design operations and awareness within the project team. To ensure that the new project model was a success both in terms of product management and product design, the design team decided to triage Discovery missions into three types of missions: Explo, Recon, and Build.
The need to change our design operations
The purpose of the two-week Discovery mission is to reduce uncertainty before the engineering team starts building new features. It is during this short initial mission that the bulk of the design work happens; anything from user research and competitive analysis, to designing and polishing complete interactions can take place at this stage. As a sprint is obviously not enough to provide a meaningful and exhaustive design from scratch, we needed to organize our contribution to the Discovery mission in a substantial and sustainable way. To make these two-week projects as productive as possible, we established the following goals:
Identify granularly each project’s maturity level
How to objectively qualify the maturity of a project? What is our real knowledge level versus our desire to ship early? How to identify how many discovery missions would be necessary to tackle the project?
Accurately estimate each mission’s scope
Shipping earlier doesn’t mean shipping faster — it means shipping less. How to help the scope being more adapted to the team and timeframe capacity?
Facilitate design operations and its awareness through teams
Helping designers be more efficient in their operations and raising the project team awareness is key to performing well: raising quality bar while following the pace.
Co-creating Discovery design missions’ operations
To facilitate cooperation and buy-in from product managers, developers, designers, and other contributors, we scheduled a series of workshops in our Paris and New York offices. The goal of the workshops was to introduce a logic to triage the main different types of Discovery missions, set expectations for each of them, and map the kinds of activities designers undertake during each type of mission. This helped the team truly weigh design operations in such scenarios.
Adding granularity to the Discovery mission
Being involved in a Discovery mission is somehow similar to being involved in a commando operation: short time frame, and very localized action. As a Discovery mission is too general and too large to be specific in a short sprint cadence, we decided to break it down in three Discovery mission types, each referring to a crucial step in the design workflow: EXPLO, RECON and BUILD. These refers to commando types of missions.
To make simple analogies, an EXPLO mission is about investigating, collecting information about why should we, for example, cross this river? RECON mission is about experimenting how to cross this river (bridge, boat, swim, submarine, plane, catapult, rope…). BUILD mission is about defining the specific solution we need to develop (What specific type of bridge?)
Those three words helps the team instantly visualize the project’s status and synchronize expected operations. This framework of three distinct missions is the very core of any design activities. The commando image is used for its inspiration clarity, and really fits our project organization at Dailymotion.
Map activities with our internal collaborators
Having defined those three Discovery mission types, we held workshops for the design & product management teams in Paris and New York. “what we did was gave everyone a marker and asked them to write examples of inputs and outputs on a whiteboard for each mission”. Inputs refers to the knowledge previously acquired about the project, and outputs focuses on what the team agrees to deliver at the end of the mission. This make it easier to responsibly and accurately estimate the amount of work that can be done in two weeks. This exercise helped align expectations of designers and product managers and also raised the project team awareness about how design operations unfold.
In addition, it was a great opportunity to address participants’ doubts about this process. For example: we don’t necessarily need to always run the three missions in a row. We can skip one mission and move to the next if the prior knowledge is objectively sufficient. As well, we can iterate each type of mission if the workload is too consequent to be achieved in one mission.
By synthesizing the various workshops outcomes, we defined the key activities for each of the three types of design missions.
Setup missions’ facilitation tools
Having organized design activities through the three Discovery missions’, it was the time to build tools that will help teams properly run those missions. We added the following tools to our mission Wiki, the company’s centralized knowledge platform:
Mission cards: These cards explain the nature and goals of each mission as well as the conditions that must be met in order to launch each type of mission.
Missions checklist cards: Every mission comes with its own checklist. Input checklist help teams validate the acquired knowledge and confirm the right Discovery mission to be launched. Output checklist helps the team finetune the goal and agree on the deliverables to produce.
Pre-scheduled calendar: Once the team has checked the design activities to be done, they can arrange them on the sprint calendar, which help monitor and manage the operations throughout the mission.
Artifact links: As we use a lot of different tools to conduct our studies, making them accessible and easy to find is crucial. It also makes it easier for new team members joining a mission to get up to speed quickly.
Design operations supporting the new organization
Thanks to the collaboration and support from each team at Dailymotion, the first results after the introduction of the three Discovery design missions were very encouraging. EXPLO, RECON and BUILD words were joining our teams’ vocabulary and it was easier for everyone to visualize what would happen in those missions while using these terminologies. Forms and questionnaires sent to teams helped us measure the benefits of the three Discovery design missions. The people who answered the questionnaire noticed the following benefits and improvements:
More focused Missions
Selecting the right mission phase for the right purpose, setting clear goals and select the most efficient outcomes helped enhance our team efficiency. For this improvement alone, this Design process was worth it.
Key design activities
Checklists helped designers have examples of meaningful activities listed per missions which helped them focus on the project itself. As an example, we partnered with our User Researcher to produce cards that helped designers run better research activities in a two weeks’ timeframe.
Increase awareness of the design process
As the work of design is often unclear to colleagues on other teams, having clear Discovery design mission with a clear deliverables’ checklist helped raise awareness of design activities for everyone in the project team.
After a few months of practice, we were able to see which missions were the most frequent. While BUILD and RECON were used equally, we saw that there were significantly fewer EXPLO missions. This helped develop awareness of our upcoming challenges, like participating more in the projects’ genesis. If you want to know which design team you are, categorizing your missions done across a semester might be a good way to know it.
As a result, we are more efficient, focus, and we are delivering better quality work.
We’ve already seen impressive results on our own team, but if applied across the company, we could achieve even more fluid communication, efficient pace.
Ship faster, alone, might easily bring chaos in teams expectations, operations and puts the product quality in danger as a result. But Ship earlier, regularly, implies a sense of measure, reason and order. And this was our intention by bringing the three Discovery design missions. We hope it’ll continue to support positively our new project’s organization structure at Dailymotion and that it will benefit to other organizations facing design operations challenges.