The Design Management Office: Delivering the Value of Design at Scale
Many things have changed in the 20+ years that I’ve been designing products, but there’s been one thing that has remained the same: designers perpetually calling for businesses to see of the value of design.
That one constant has now been overturned. What once felt like shouting into the wilderness has become gospel. Some of the most well-known thought leaders in business have long believed in design-thinking led innovation. CEOs have pledged that their companies will become design-led and hire designers by the hundreds. Companies large and small are not only recognizing it, they are the ones preaching the value of design.
This has created a new problem for designers and design leaders: If it is now agreed that design is important and will drive value, how do you consistently deliver on that promise? Or to put it another way: “Congratulations, you’ve hired 1,000 designers. What’s next?”
Small organizations with clear-cut product offerings have seen the results. Design leaders in these organizations deliver by applying design methodologies. They utilize an ever-growing wealth of digital resources and tap into a new influx of design talent to produce tangible value through design.
But what about design leaders in large, complex organizations looking for return on investment through design across products? Across digital platforms? Across business units? These leaders are finding it to be frustratingly difficult to realize value of design. There are many reasons for this:
- It’s easier to evangelize than to implement.
Organizations are now believers that design will provide value, but don’t know how to define or measure it. They need to be able to understand the investments being made in design, determine the returns, and to adjust accordingly. They need new tools to help them identify and communicate this value and make investments accordingly. To make this happen, organizations need new tools and a collaborative dialogue with other leaders in the organization.
2. The explorer age of digital design is ending.
Today’s designers are different and design leaders need to recognize that the digital landscape of many platforms is no longer the vast unexplored territory it once was. In the early Internet and mobile eras we needed to create new paradigms, and we needed to combine a variety of skills borrowed from other fields of design to do it. The designers entering the field today are digital natives who have broad, user-centered skills and an intuitive understanding of well-established interaction paradigms. They aren’t exploring this landscape as much as they are already inhabiting it. Equipping and guiding them to be successful needs to take a new approach.
3. The front-end is fuzzy again.
For a time, organizations didn’t have to work hard to prioritize digital product design efforts — there always seemed to be a new device or platform emerging and each one needed to be addressed. Now that platforms are becoming more settled, large organizations are seeing the return of a classic product development problem: it is taking too long to shift from opportunity identification to design and development. Now that disruption is no longer providing a focusing mechanism, it will take collaboration, discipline, and rigor to shape and prioritize efforts.
4. Context is complicated now.
It’s always been hard for those within large, complex organizations to empathize with their customers. Working day-to-day in a corporate headquarters naturally creates a different relationship to the brand than being a customer. Organizations have known for many years that it’s important to overcome this burden and build customer empathy, but it’s critical to recognize how much harder it is now than ever before. Today customers’ experiences are made up of a multitude of different products, services, platforms, devices, and partnerships. It’s hard to even map these journeys, much less understand them and empathize with customers’ experiences. A new set of tools and systems are required to deal with this new, complex context and to create empathy for what’s going on out in the real world.
5. Having some tools isn’t the same as having a shop.
For years organizations have run projects utilizing design thinking and doing that has resulted in tools that can be applied to future projects, tools such as personas, journey maps, or style and interaction standards. Developing and using these is great, but it’s akin to assembling a set of tools by buying whatever tools you need for each job as you go. What we need to do as design leaders for complex organizations is approach this the other way around — the way we would if we were asked to set up the shop. In that case, we wouldn’t acquire our tools ad-hoc, we’d look at acquiring everything needed for a team to walk in and get right to work.
So what’s to be done?
I believe that today’s design leaders need to engage in a new conversation. We’ve had more than enough discussion on the high-level theory of what design can mean for business, and there has certainly been no shortage of content created for design approaches, process, and tools to be utilized on a project by project basis. Where we need more conversation is in the space in between.
Connecting design theory to the realities of everyday business is proving to be the most challenging for complex organizations; those who produce a variety of products and services for a broad mix of customers.
The Design Management Office
The Project Management Office (PMO), is a construct known by managers everywhere. The PMO operates separately from individual projects and sets standards, develops tools, and coordinates efforts in complex environments. From working with our Fortune 500 clients at Moment and discussing the situation with other leaders in the design industry, I believe a similar concept; a Design Management Office (DMO) can help realize the value of design within large, complex organizations.
These organizations typically have three components for delivering design value: belief in the value of design, senior design leadership, and a sizable staff of design execution talent. They’ve seen some success, but are frustrated that it’s inconsistent and seems unpredictable. Installing a DMO will create more leverage and the organization will see tangible results:
- increased speed by shaping projects faster and equipping teams to effectively contribute faster
- improved quality by setting effective standards, distributing them consistently, and providing structured learning opportunities
- broader and deeper customer empathy throughout business units or the enterprise
At Moment, the team and I recognize there’s no time to lose, and we’re moving quickly to build Design Management Offices with and for our clients along these lines today.
We’ll share more of the details of our approach to the DMO with you soon. In the meantime, I look forward to the conversation around what will be required for success, and what obstacles will need to be overcome.
After all, we now have the opportunity we been asking for after all these years. It’s time to step up and deliver what we promised.