Two sides of the same coin

Two sides of the same coin

Recently I posted a question on LinkedIn to the design community: What is the strategy to achieve left, while the organizational structure is like the right.

The question generated over twenty-two thousand views, and more importantly, it generated an excellent discussion. 

My intention for posting the question is not for the answers, but to do a pulse check. The debate is not new; the challenge is not a new challenge. 

As a design community, we’ve come a long way. Design, Product management, and Engineering balanced team, three leg stool are well known. In addition, many companies established VP of design, Chief Design Officer positions to elevate the design practice. Mckinsey research shows “companies that excel at design grow revenues and shareholder returns at nearly twice the rate of their industy peer.” At the same time, according to Mckinsey, “90 percent of companies weren’t reaching the full potential of design”. So I have to say design leaders have some responsibility for this result. (Melissa D, 2020).

What I love about this discussion forum is that folks brought different perspectives in tackling this challenge. We can not deny that the two sides are closely connected. Many folks tackle the challenge from the delivery team side, while John Cutler calls us to look deeper to ensure the balanced team is not just on paper but with aligned incentives. When Jehad Affoneh called out the org structure should empower the delivery team, we knew it was challenging to do in reality. On the other side of the diagram, Bob Baxley disentangled the disciplines into independent orgs; ‚ú®Sascha Brossmann highlights the possibility of interdependent teams by default that support products beyond software products.

The discussion makes it more apparent that all of the companies cannot excel at design yet. This is because the organizational structure of design reports to products is too common in many enterprise businesses. Of course, we can argue that the organizational structure should not limit product development. On the contrary, it should enable the delivery team, empower the delivery team. Still, we cannot ignore the reality of its constraints. In the past many years, designers have put in tremendous effort to prove the value of a balanced team approach. Design leaders have to lead the way to elevate the business value of design, trying to establish design as its business unit within an enterprise company. I find I need to spend more time talking about design than doing design in my work and wonder how many other design leaders are doing the same. 

The two sides exist in reality. As a DesignOps person, I navigate between the two sides. I am pushing experiments sometimes on the left side, sometimes on the right side, sometimes on both sides, sometimes simply connecting both sides. 


Dalrymple, Melissa. (n.d.). Are you asking enough from your design leaders? | McKinsey. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from

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