Navigating the Challenges of Scaling Up a DesignOps Team
In the ever-evolving world of design, the emergence of DesignOps has brought about significant improvements in team efficiency, collaboration, and overall design processes. However, scaling up a DesignOps team from a solitary practitioner to a fully functional unit can be a daunting journey for design leaders and DesignOps leaders. I want to explore the challenges that come with this endeavor and shed light on why the transition from one to two can be more difficult than it seems.
1. Staffing and Budget Constraints
One of the primary hurdles in scaling up a DesignOps team is the limited availability of staffing and constrained budgets. Design teams are often already understaffed, and deciding between hiring a designer or a DesignOps practitioner can be a tough call. The temptation to prioritize designers may arise, as they are directly involved in the creative process and deliver tangible outcomes. However, neglecting DesignOps can hinder the overall efficiency of the design team and lead to missed opportunities for process optimization and collaboration.
To overcome this challenge, design leaders need to recognize the long-term benefits of investing in DesignOps. While designers create the experience and visual elements, DesignOps professionals facilitate seamless communication, streamlined workflows, and effective utilization of design resources. Viewing DesignOps as an enabler for design success can help make a stronger case for allocating resources to build a robust DesignOps team.
Additionally, amplifying the value of DesignOps throughout the entire company is crucial. Often, design leaders might be the sole individuals who fully comprehend the potential of DesignOps. Therefore, it requires concerted efforts and multiple allies across different departments to establish and promote the significance of DesignOps in driving efficiency, collaboration, and, ultimately, exceptional design outcomes company-wide.
2. Lack of Industry Standard for DesignOps Ratio
Unlike some well-established roles in design or development, DesignOps is still relatively new, and there is no universally accepted industry standard for the ideal DesignOps-to-Design ratio. This ambiguity can make it difficult for organizations to determine the appropriate number of DesignOps practitioners needed to support their design teams adequately.
The blog post by John Calhoun and Rachel Posman, “Team-Ops and Product-Ops: The Perfect DesignOps Pair,” offers valuable insights into pairing DesignOps roles to cover the essential aspects of operations. It does provide a high-level answer to the specific ratio of DesignOps practitioners to designers within a team (the best we have to this date). Organizations need to assess their unique requirements, team size, and project complexity to arrive at a suitable ratio that aligns with their objectives.
However, as more industry professionals join the conversation and share their experiences, we can gather a broader range of examples and practical applications of different DesignOps ratios in diverse contexts. This wealth of knowledge will not only deepen our understanding but also provide real-world success stories that can guide organizations in finding the optimal DesignOps-to-Design ratio for their specific needs.
3. Undefined Scope of DesignOps
DesignOps is a versatile domain, and its potential applications are not limited to a single area. DesignOps professionals can focus on a broad range of responsibilities, from optimizing design workflows and managing design systems to facilitating cross-functional collaboration and stakeholder management.
While the diversity of opportunities makes DesignOps exciting, it also creates uncertainty about which areas to prioritize during the scaling process. DesignOps practitioners are experienced individuals capable of wearing multiple hats, but expecting one person to excel at all aspects of DesignOps can be unrealistic.
To address this challenge, organizations should analyze their specific pain points and identify the areas where DesignOps can have the most significant impact. Building a DesignOps team with complementary skill sets can ensure that various aspects of operations receive the attention they deserve, leading to a more efficient and productive design ecosystem.
To illustrate the importance of defining the scope of DesignOps and how it can be leveraged to address specific challenges, I’ve included a case study where a DesignOps team played a pivotal role in empowering designers to conduct user research effectively.
This case study not only demonstrates the significant impact of a well-defined DesignOps team but also highlights the need for appropriate headcount and resources to support the growing demands of design operations. By showcasing the positive outcomes achieved through the strategic allocation of DesignOps resources, organizations can pave the way for a compelling case to scale up their DesignOps team, fostering a culture of operational excellence and driving the overall success of their design initiatives.
Scaling up a DesignOps team comes with its unique set of challenges, including staffing constraints, undefined industry standards, and the versatility of DesignOps roles. While the transition from a single practitioner to a full-fledged team may seem intimidating, recognizing the value of DesignOps and its potential to enhance overall design efficiency is crucial.
Design leaders must advocate for the integration of DesignOps and design roles to strike a balance that optimizes creativity and operational excellence. By tailoring the DesignOps team’s structure and scope to the organization’s specific needs, design leaders can successfully navigate the complexities of scaling up, leading to a more seamless and collaborative design process.
While the road to scaling a DesignOps team may be challenging, the rewards in terms of enhanced productivity, streamlined workflows, and improved design outcomes make it a journey well worth undertaking. Embracing the evolution of DesignOps will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in shaping the future of design and its impact on the world.
Posman, R., & Calhoun, J. (2020, December 16). Team Ops and Product Ops: The Perfect DesignOps Pair. https://medium.com/salesforce-ux/team-ops-and-product-ops-the-perfect-designops-pair-eb6508f1b435
Case Study Background:
What we did when we lost our UX research headcount and our solo UX researcher.
The design team faced a significant challenge in maintaining the momentum of user research initiatives. The product designers and content designers had limited experience in conducting user research independently. Moreover, without proper research tools, operational support, and guidance, the team’s research capabilities would have been severely compromised.
Recognizing the critical role of research in driving user-centered design, the design and Ops leadership decided to prioritize DesignOps initiatives aimed at empowering the designers to conduct their research studies efficiently. Here’s how they approached the solution:
- Research Tools and Resources: DesignOps team collaborated with design and research leads to implement suitable research tools, ensuring designers had access to reliable survey, usability testing software, and analytics platforms.
- Operational Support: DesignOps streamlined the research process and provided guidance, creating detailed research guidelines, templates for recruiting participants, discussion guides, and data analysis frameworks.
- Training and Skill Development: DesignOps organized workshops and training on research methodologies, best practices, and data analysis, encouraging designers to utilize external UX researcher consultation.
- Internship for ResearchOps: Prioritized creating an internship focused on ResearchOps, providing essential research support, skill development, and potential future hires for the DesignOps team.
Results: DesignOps initiatives had a transformative impact:
- Designers became more self-sufficient and confident, reducing reliance on external research resources.
- User research quality and quantity increased significantly, leading to more user-centered design decisions.
- Collaborative efforts fostered a research-driven culture, emphasizing data-driven design value.
- External researcher consultation enabled tackling complex research challenges, and maintaining rigor and validity.
This case study exemplifies how a well-defined and strategically focused DesignOps team can play a crucial role in empowering designers and addressing specific challenges within a design organization. Tailored solutions strengthen design capabilities, enhance collaboration, and maintain a user-centric approach.
Moreover, it underlines the significance of allocating proper headcounts to the prioritized and needed DesignOps initiatives. Adequate staffing enables the DesignOps team to effectively support designers, streamline processes, and drive operational efficiency. By recognizing the value of DesignOps and investing in the right talent, organizations can maximize the impact of their design operations and foster a thriving design ecosystem that delivers exceptional results.