From practice lead to operations lead

From practice lead to operations lead

Photo credit Marvin Meyer on Unsplash  

What is the difference between a practice lead vs. a design-operations lead?

To discuss the difference, we start with similarities.

Roadmapping, 2×2 prioritization, and data analysis all sound too familiar for product development teams; these are the same essential skills for running a successful Design operation org, especially if we are the DesignOps team-of-one. The product management skills create stability, scalability, and maps out a process. Coming from a practice lead background, we can easily apply the same skills to design operations.

For example — Roadmapping.

Applying the same skills

If we treat developing design operations as developing a product, Roadmaping is essential to help us prioritize and focus our work. I had applied the same framework when I created the road map for design operations. Overall, there are four swimming lanes. 

  • Outcome 
  • Solutions
  • Measurable Metric
  • Next Steps
    • Next steps if the outcome is achieved
    • Next steps if the outcome is not achieved


Outlines what value we can deliver to our target persona? In the case of design operation, our target personas are our designers, and design managers, and our design leadership. It is important to focus on the outcome rather than the output.


Solution outlines what solutions we are betting on to help us to achieve the desired outcome. If the outcomes highlight what we are aiming for, the solutions detail what we will do to achieve the desired outcomes. Filling out more details of the steps in the solution maps out how we will achieve the outcomes.


How do we know we achieved the desired outcomes? Similar to engineers write tests before writing code. Success metrics help us to check if we are achieving our goals. In return, guide us for the next steps. 

Next steps

What do we have to do if we achieve the desired result? What do we have to do if we did not achieve the desired result? Similar to developing a product, developing the design operation is an iterative process. “Build, Measure, Learn”. We make adjustments based on what we’ve learned. Having a plan ahead of time saves time while we are doing the work. 

Operationalize it

What is truly exciting for a design operation lead is to be able to operationalize the effort. Being able to operationalize it is the difference between a practice lead and an operations lead. 

Here is an example of my design operation roadmap for 2021. It has more lanes!

We no longer can think about one vertical, one balanced team. Taking a holistic approach is essential. The overall landscape is more complex. For example, the solution we come up with will not be a single solution. Sometimes, we have to run multiple solutions at the same time to achieve the desired outcome.

 In most cases, the activities involve more people, include more perspectives and viewpoints. Decision-making becomes more challenging while balancing providing value to the business and nurturing the team’s growth. Setting up the Design Operations principles will help us make decisions when there is a conflict. I believe the responsibility for the design operations is to help our designers, design managers, and design leaderships— the people we work with. If there is a hard decision we have to make, people come first. 

What is the difference between a practice lead vs. a design-operations lead? It is the scale. The responsibility of a design operations person is to build team culture, identify methods to develop products at scale, and help the team grow. Applying many product design methods at scale is what makes design operation challenging and also rewarding.

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