What is DesignOps and how can your business master it?

Woman putting postit notes up, discussing what is DesignOps and how can your business master it?

Anyone working on scaling their business online over the past year will probably agree that DesignOps is a term that has popped up and is becoming increasingly popular. It refers to the department (or single person) that plans, defines, and manages the design process within a company. They must ensure the design team is smooth-running and disciplined, generating high-quality design outputs. Even more importantly, it is their job to ensure the design team will turn-out their work back into the development cycle. If you have a growing in-house design team, this post is for you.

The term DesignOps (Design Operations, or DesOps for short) has actually been around for about 3 years. It is a spin on DevOps, although the scope of DevOps is way broader. Even before the term DesignOps came about, the role itself already existed and was initially the title given to Project Managers that were more focused on processes than projects. To break their role down, they must keep the design team running smoothly and efficiently. To achieve that, they take care of these different aspects of a team:

Workflow: how the design work flows within the company
Tools: what they need to get the job done
Politics: who needs to see the work and when
Framework: what the team needs to work more efficiently
Budget: how much running that team costs and why
Headcount: how many people are needed, with which skills
Pipeline: projects coming up and how well staffed the team is
Retention: how to make people want to stay
Education: what skills are missing and how to learn them
Demonstration: help the organisation understand the value of design

A DesOp can operate at both company-level and project-level too. The former is about looking at design staffing holistically and the latter is about understanding each project’s specific needs and challenges and to adapt all the aforementioned pieces accordingly. It’s a complex role but for any company looking to expand significantly, especially online, it’s a position which needs to be thought about and eventually, filled.

Why is it a term that has begun to increase in popularity recently? The reason for that is that while not much has changed in terms of what DesignOps is and what it does, design teams are growing and people are noticing how important it is to have someone overseeing them and ensuring that they can perform to the best of their abilities as collectives.

Are you starting to wonder whether you need a DesignOp for your business? It’s important for you to note that as well as the DesignOps role, there’s also the DesignOps mindset. Every design team with more than 1 person needs some form of DesignOps thinking, simply because you want to make sure designers are working together. If you’re looking for higher quality and efficiency in your design process, your designers need to share the same tools, templates and workflow. Making sure there is a clear naming structure for files and folders, for example, will end up saving you time when you need to go back and find an old file in your servers. We know from experience that spending time on these ‘background’ ops tasks can save valuable time in the long run.

Now, whether you need to hire a dedicated DesignOps person is a different question. You’re probably going to need one when your design team headcount is made up of 40–50 designers and sometimes earlier, if your team structure is fragmented but equally, sometimes later, if your team managers already take on that responsibility.

The ‘ops’ in the name can be misleading, because people in operational positions are not just operational. They’re usually designers themselves so perhaps you’re going to be able to kill two birds with one stone when hiring your next designer and planning your expansion. If they have a clear understanding of design processes in various shapes and sizes and ‘soft skills’, like negotiation and empathy, they could very well be your company’s designer and future DesOp. Good news, right?!

If today is the first day you’ve started to consider whether or not you need a DesOp mindset or if you’ve been questioning for a while now whether your company could benefit from implementing one then the answer is most definitely yes. Before you begin to worry about budget and tools for achieving a successful DesignOp workflow, remember: it can be as simple as providing shared tools and platforms, establishing common systems and taking steps to facilitate communication.

Get in touch with us at Shake It Up Creative today to see how we can help you make the most out of your design and prepare for growth, too. We look forward to hearing from you.

Meg Fenn, Director of Shake It Up Creative

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