Scaling Quality: 4 Steps To Foster A Culture Of Empowerment And Accountability For Design Excellence

In building design organizations, one of the hardest parts is maintaining quality at scale.

When you’re a small team that’s tight on expectations and holding the bar, it’s easier to maintain an understanding of quality. But much like fostering culture, as you grow, keeping that bar for quality becomes a more complex endeavor.

Here are 4 steps to create design excellence:

Create a shared definition of quality.

Use heuristics, establish principles and frameworks, and show examples and patterns. Share best practices from teams that have strength. Help everyone understand what we mean when we say quality by establishing a reference point — it isn’t perfection.

If you haven’t clearly defined what quality is, but still expect it from teams, it leads to an elusive target that can come across subjective and inconsistent. Take the time to define it well.

Once you know what great looks like, create the conditions that help it thrive. Develop ceremonies and rhythms that enable a quality system to evolve.

Create mechanisms that provide oversight, experience cohesion, cross pollination, and inspiration. Your design system is a key component, enabling teams to design faster at a higher degree of quality and cohesion — make sure you’re leveraging it as a tool not a mandate. Build peer reviews, open crits, design reviews, rumbles, sparring, etc. into the fabric of the organization.

Get people comfortable with a culture of collaboration and critique.

Drive leader accountability so you’re not the sole arbiter of taste and quality.

Even if you’re the head of the function, you shouldn’t be the only one that feels a responsibility to hold the bar. Leaders across the organization need to be accountable and drive it within their teams. The only way to scale is to have everyone in the org pushing the same way together.

This means you need to set the right conditions.

Once leaders understand expectations and have guiding principles, empower them to make the decisions needed to get there. Infuse design excellence into your performance rubric so it’s an ongoing discussion. And provide coaching where needed.

Establish leading indicators as part of scorecards so leaders can manage to quality outcomes.

Highlight great examples of design excellence.

Use every vehicle possible: Inspiration days, Fikas, lightning talks, town halls, quarterly impact reports. Praise great work in public and do it often. Show people what great looks like and encourage teams to share their work even when it’s in early stages.

The more you create an environment of trust and accountability, the more teams will organically share, mentor, and teach across the organization — it’s a design excellence flywheel of awesomeness.

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Rachel Kobetz

I love shaping product cultures that connect people and make technology more human. SVP + Global Head of Design at Expedia Group. Prev. BofA, Amazon, + Samsung