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February 22, 2022

Here’s why you need ‘DesignOps’ and how you can achieve it

With these three steps, you can scale the creativity and innovation of your design team to differentiate the user experience.

Enterprises increasingly recognize the business and reputational impact of experience design. As a result, we’re seeing increasing levels of complexity around the design delivery process, particularly in terms of speed and scale.

Design teams are also growing, and the role of design within the enterprise is becoming increasingly significant and influential. Design teams now serve more organizational areas, and with remote and hybrid working models, as well as distributed, multi-disciplinary teams, the sophistication of technology solutions and experiences continues to advance.

All this has given rise to “DesignOps,” where organizations embed and scale design processes, teams and ways-of-working into their development efforts. The goal: operationalizing design to not only deliver products more efficiently and effectively, but to also apply creativity and innovation in a scalable way to differentiate the ultimate experience. 

How to achieve DesignOps

However, many businesses are still trying to understand exactly what DesignOps is and how it can better support and add value to their business and the experiences they deliver.

We look at DesignOps principles through three lenses to scale our design and delivery function globally and enable teams to deliver better project outcomes to our clients:

  • Lens #1: People. The question here is how to more effectively and efficiently leverage design capability and successfully operationalize large design teams across multiple geographies.

    We’ve redesigned our recruitment and onboarding processes so our designers can more quickly become part of, and actively contribute to projects. We’re also ensuring our design teams are appropriately and consistently skilled, and upskilled, supported by a framework to retain and develop our creative talent.

    For instance, we provide training across industry-standard software tools and specific ways-of-working, including design thinking, service design and product management. Culturally, we strive to build a more healthy, inclusive and collaborative environment, fueled by learning and sharing, focused on craft, creativity and innovation.

  • Lens # 2: Processes. Here, the issue is establishing consistent toolsets, processes and ways-of-working that optimize design delivery, enable collaboration and ensure the consistency and quality of design.

    Streamlining, optimizing and aligning design processes, methodologies and ways-of-working is perhaps the single most challenging component when implementing DesignOps principles across a large, diverse, geographically distributed design function.

    We use DesignOps principles to forecast work, manage resourcing, drive the day-to-day project flows, oversee budgets, support team health, and basically facilitate anything that allows our creative teams to focus on what they do best — design.

    We’re also working to ensure design processes are appropriately governed and standardized across teams, so they support and enable business-as-usual decision making and future-state planning.

  • Lens # 3: Value. It’s essential to communicate the value of investment in design, and increase design maturity levels.

    We’re exploring how to make design more accountable by defining and measuring the quality and impact of our work, positioning DesignOps at the intersection of digital transformation, design thinking, customer experience and agile product delivery.

    We also advocate, both internally and with our clients, the role of design as an integral part of the end-to-end project delivery lifecycle and its potential to help companies leapfrog the competition and get their products and services to market faster.

Bringing DesignOps into the real world

We’re leveraging some of our thinking and learnings to support our clients with the development and implementation of their own strategies, punctuated by the need to quickly scale (up and down) design capability, embed a more user-centered, agile approach to product development, optimize and streamline design processes, and better articulate the value of design within the enterprise.

For example, building on our long-standing partnerships with a leading US pharmaceutical, our design team is leading the development of a user interface (UI) design standards framework — a collection of design patterns, elements and guidelines designed to deliver a unified UI across a range of commercial field-facing applications and tools. This design system has facilitated and improved collaboration across multiple product development squads and external vendors, streamlining the design and build process and enabling the team to work better, smarter and faster.

We also partnered with one of the UK’s largest travel infrastructure providers, leveraging DesignOps to embed user-centered design (UCD) thinking as part of a large enterprise application transformation program. While we started small, we have quickly been able to scale design capability across the program, mobilizing a blended team of onsite and offshore resources, with our designers working as an integral part of agile, multi-disciplinary product delivery teams. Over time, we’ve transitioned from a small-scale tactical design team to a fully-fledged strategic partner, delivering UCD best practice at scale.

A DesignOps checklist

We encourage clients to think about the business challenges they face and the opportunities they’re trying to realize, and how, as an organization they can:

  • Amplify the role and value of design across the enterprise, and create the required metrics framework to prove ROI

  • Optimize, scale, and operationalize the design process to deliver design more effectively and efficiently

  • Embed user-centered design thinking, processes and ways-of-working at the center of the product development process

  • Build a design function and/or quickly augment and scale (up or down) an existing design capability to meet the changing capacity and organizational need

  • Deliver a more consistent, coherent experience across a diverse digital product and services portfolio

  • Build a component-based design system to enable reuse and support the product design and development process.

Getting started

The organizations that can perhaps benefit most from introducing DesignOps are those with large, distributed or fast-growing and expanding design teams. These organizations can start by simply implementing tactical changes to existing processes or ways-of-working, or they can go further and establish DesignOps as a new strategic function. This will require working with design leaders and business stakeholders to enable and affect fundamental change in how design is perceived and delivered.

By reducing the need to focus on operations, the design function can better focus on executing and defining design and create an environment whereby creativity and innovation thrive. By doing so, they can drive higher impact on both the organizations’ ability to deliver design effectively and the teams’ capacity to grow and expand in a structured way.

This can only be achieved if DesignOps is positioned as a strategic role within the organization, with a clear remit and vision, and with the support to execute it appropriately.

Mark Smith
Experience Design Lead, UKI
Headshot of Digitally Cognizant author Mark Smith

Mark Smith is UKI Practice Lead, Experience Design at Cognizant and evangelizes design thinking. He leads a multi-disciplined team of over 50 digital experts & consultants from user experience, customer research & product / service design.

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