Design Ops

With Design Ops, companies optimize the design team’s operations while integrating these into the entire product development process.

Product development is rapidly turning into a design-first process which means that process needs optimization. Design Ops — short for Design Operations—involves optimizing the whole product design procedure, including the people and technologies.

The concept is loosely based on the DevOps model—an agile framework that integrates product development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops) for consistent product deployment. Design Ops is a newer concept, emerging back in the early 2010s. 

Design operations is also a role within the product management and development team. Your Design Ops members oversee the design team’s workflow and ensure they can focus on their tasks by taking care of extraneous obligations.

Design Ops Goals

The role encompasses plenty of tasks, but the three primary goals of Design Ops are:

  1. Creating an efficient team of designers with the right skills
  2. Minimizing inefficiencies and miscommunication in design processes
  3. Building a systematic design workflow 

This doesn’t mean that Design Ops is an isolated framework. Instead, it involves information dissemination among the different stakeholders—particularly the software developers. These interactions make the design process more productive and effective.

In essence, it is both a role and a set of practices between the design team and the various stakeholders. It connects design to the other development roles, refining the design process for maximum efficiency.

Why DesignOps is Important

Customers are becoming more discerning and demanding regarding the products they use. To keep up with customer needs, product life cycles are accelerating. This makes the product design phase even more significant to the overall development.

The traditional Waterfall Methodology can result in teams operating in information silos, leaving them unable to communicate and maximize their productivity. Since development works on the back-end while design works on user experience (UX), the final products of both teams may end up incompatible.

But within an agile framework—mainly Dual Track Agile—Design Ops coordinates the design team’s process with the product developers, managers, and engineers. This ensures that everyone’s work is working towards the same end goal.

Design Ops, therefore, reduces bottlenecks and delays in the product development process since it keeps the design process on track. This way, the design team can promptly release its work to the development team and incorporate the development team’s feedback accordingly.

This also means product managers can better organize resources. Also, the Design Ops team can estimate the design team’s story points with more accuracy and then request staffing and resources as necessary. 

The Role of Design Ops in Agile Framework

Design Ops exists to manage the design team and let them focus on what they do best—designing the product. This involves several roles and practices necessary to keep that workflow smooth. These are some of the four main parts of Design Ops:

1. Operations Management

Your ops manager identifies the long-term goals of the design team and creates a roadmap for how to achieve these. They also oversee the design team to assess staffing needs and skill gaps.

2. Design Process

Design Ops also manages the design process by reinforcing the systems and acquiring the technologies and tools required by the team. They act as a go-between for the design team and any other group within the company.

3. Project Management

The project managers must supervise the workflow, from project assignment to timeline definition. Additionally, they may also organize sprints and meetings to check on progress and identify and address any issues.

4. Resource Management

Everything from labor cost to resource budgeting falls under Design Ops’ purview. They get the budget for the design team approved and oversee distribution among team members. Design Ops also coordinates with the procurement department for any purchases.

Integrating DesignOps into Product Development

If your company does not already have a Design Ops structure, you’ll have to integrate the role into your existing work systems. Here’s how you can get started: 

1. Build it into the culture.

Your current teams need to buy into a culture that puts a premium on product design, seamlessly integrating the design process into the development plans. They need to build a design schedule into the broader timeframes, like when the design team turns to development and when development returns the work to design.

The design and development teams also need to work closer rather than on separate tracks. They should collaborate as a single cross-functional team that goes through overlapping cycles for a more continuous workflow.

2. Create a role or a team.

Larger organizations will have the resources to assign a Design Ops role or team. The ops manager will oversee the cross-functional collaboration and coordinate project design. Ideally, they have a background in product design or management. That way, they understand the different processes involved.

3. Create collaboration routines.

Whether it’s daily check-ins or weekly meetings, your design and development teams should regularly share progress updates. This transparency lets everyone track the product’s status and identify issues as they arise, rather than after the fact.

You can have the design team present its iterations to development, then engage in a brainstorming and feedback session. Design can refine their iteration before turning it back over to development for product feature creation.

4. Let your designers focus on design.

Finally, your design team should have no distractions or obstacles hindering their work, given its importance to the overall UX with the end product.

You shouldn’t burden your design team with extraneous tasks such as UX writing or UI coding. Multi-tasking is more optimal for small businesses and start-ups, but you should have designated roles. Otherwise, you risk producing lower-quality work as you scale.

Design Ops is a Critical Role

Product life cycles shorten as customer demand grows, and the design process is more vital than ever to ensure the best UX. By introducing Design Ops both as a concept and a role, you can improve the overall development workflow, building products that meet your customers’ needs.