Earlier this year, I moved to a new company and a new role that shifted my career from UX design to DesignOps. With the congratulatory messages, I also received questions such as what DesignOps actually means. Other UXers who have been leading teams also asked, “Isn’t DesignOps what I do?” To help clarify this growing specialty in the UX field, I have written this post to outline how the community is defining the practice of DesignOps and how they help support the product design team.

What is DesignOps

DesignOps is a mindset that focuses on coordinating and optimizing the way a growing UX team works to scale its value. In general, the practice looks at how a team leverages processes, methods, and craft with respect to its people, workflows, and tools. As opposed to product design where the attention is on the end-user, DesignOps focuses on the experience of the UX team and its challenges to meet growing demands.

Some of the challenges may include:

    • Growing UX teams to include a more diverse set of skills
    • Examining and changing workflows to address bottlenecks
    • Facilitating the creation and communication of the team mission and vision
    • Recruiting and hiring people that will help further the team’s mission

Who does DesignOps

When I started leading UX designers in an Agile process, that is when I started thinking about Ops beyond the perspective of one person. Working closely with my PM’s and Dev leads, we constantly discussed how we could improve our process.

If you review articles defining DesignOps and compare them with job descriptions of Design managers and directors, Ops responsibilities fall on a lot of people in senior positions. The truth is without a point person or team, these challenges listed above rarely become the highest priority. This is where a DesignOps manager or team can be more effective by forwarding the initiatives meant to improve how we work.

Why is DesignOps important now

McKinsey and Company, a management consulting firm, published a study that quickly coined the term, “the design index.” The study tracked the design practices of 300 publicly listed companies for a five-year period. Those companies on average outperformed the industry-benchmark for growth by 200%. Their average return to shareholders was 5% higher as well.

Arguably, this study ignited a desire for companies to invest in growing their own UX teams. Over the last ten years, the number of open positions has ballooned exponentially. The types of UX roles have also diversified. So, we now have larger UX teams with potentially varied responsibilities ranging from UX research, design strategy, product design, visual design, design systems, content strategy, and on some teams front-end development.

Bigger UX teams mean better outcomes?

Not so fast. Does the company know how to integrate the team? If you look at another study on Design Maturity by InVision App, you will see that nearly half of the participants surveyed felt that their companies are not leveraging their UX teams fully. 41% of the participants felt that most of their work focused on only the visual aspects of design, (i.e UI).

On a promising note, a small but growing number of participants (21%) felt that they have a more collaborative work environment with their non-UX counterparts. The same amount felt that they have shared ownership and joint accountability over their process and outcomes. These numbers are small, and that means there are a lot of underutilized skills.

More complex experiences

Also, companies are starting to understand that the experience does not stop at the software level. Experience intersects with varying levels of product and service adoption. Different company representation surfaces in the form of marketing, sales, back-end processes, support, and so on. UX teams need to adjust how their workflows and communications intersect with different internal business units to ensure a smooth experience for the end-users.

How does a dedicated DesignOps practice work

Process and workflow

  • Structure a process that optimizing the UXer’s workflow
  • Elevate our work
  • Reduce redundancies

Team coordination

  • Recruiting and hiring quality people
  • Retaining and promoting from within

Tools

  • Standardize tooling and systems
  • Introduce new tools and onboard UXers

Culture

  • Fostering connection internally and externally
  • Building trust from our work and actions
  • Encouraging fun in all of our interactions
  • Socialize the UX process to the company
  • Promoting strong cross-disciplinary collaboration

Closing thoughts

The goal of the DesignOps role is to surface the coordination of people, workflows, and organization. While it is still the responsibility of UX team managers and senior leadership, the DesignOps manager and/or team can invest the time to define, implement and maintain practices that help to sustain team growth and work quality. This gives UX leads and managers the mental energy to concentrate on understanding and solving problems for the user and the business.

Read more about UX career paths and how to understand your company’s UX maturity level.

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Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.

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