The Limina Podcast - Episode 4

The Design Operating System

Guest: Pat Bertini

So much of an organization’s ability to deliver design at scale depends on managed design operations. It’s not that design cannot happen without DesignOps; it can’t happen “well” without DesignOps.  In this episode we speak with Patrizia “Pat” Bertini about her approach to managing design operations at digital product and service organizations for an optimized, resilient, and scalable design org.

The driving force behind designops

Time is a non-renewable resource – Pat is driven by making the best use of time (hers, her collaborators, stakeholders and collaborators, and the organization at large).  So much of how people work today is loaded with inefficiencies; how we set up, plan, prioritize, and execute projects is filled with 30-40% of our time. So this drives her to enable people to love their jobs and perform them efficiently with high-value outcomes – for themselves, their team, and ultimately their organization. If you love design and hate seeing waste, Design Operations is the sweet spot to drive impact.

Greatest challenges to operational efficiency in design

DesignOps is critical in driving design maturity by examining the operational context and shared value definition. Its success hinges on engaging key stakeholders, aligning design processes, and delivering value for the organization and end users. Executive buy-in and sponsorship are essential for DesignOps to position itself strategically within the organizational hierarchy and maximize its impact. Demonstrating the tangible impact of design and operational efficiency requires quantifiable methods encompassing design actions, research, planning, execution, experimentation, and user/customer outcomes. Leadership support is crucial in providing the necessary time and resources for DesignOps to prove its value and showcase its impact through business intelligence, such as reduced time to delivery, improved output quality, decreased turnover, and successful product/service and customer outcomes.

How do you set up for success?

Pat starts by conducting a 360-degree listening tour with leadership, organizational partners, and design contributors, which is crucial for understanding the organization’s design perspective and identifying pain points. She analyzes workflows, documentation, and project delivery, to assess efficiency and uncover areas for improvement. Recognizing the non-renewable nature of time, there is a need to address inefficiencies in work processes that may result in significant time waste. The goal is to enable individuals to perform at their best and generate value by using time wisely and effectively. Solving problems related to planning, communication, and other areas ensures efficient time utilization and the delivery of exceptional products and experiences.

What are the key priorities?

The key DesignOps priorities are to

  1. Transform and operationalize design processes for delivering greater value, emphasizing time, resources, and quality. Design operations should be positioned strategically within the organization to drive design maturity and enable the creation of meaningful user experiences.
  2. Educate the organization on the value of design
  3. Establishing processes to track and collect data are crucial to demonstrate the tangible impact of design operations on business metrics.

By focusing on these priorities, organizations can optimize their operations, enhance design execution, and drive overall success.

“Time is the only nonrenewable resource we have. Unless we use it wisely and enable others to make the best use of their time, we won’t get a second chance. If you start looking at how many inefficiencies
are embedded in the way we work, we’re probably wasting 30-40% of our time.”

-Patrizia Bertini

“…the average of the time designers spent doing non-design work is anywhere between 50, 55% because of administrative tasks.”

-Patrizia Bertini

The story of design’s value, is hidden in the data.

Patrizia shares how she constructed a dashboard to reveal how many initiatives and projects had empathy scores, engaged users in discovery, how much feedback was incorporated (sales & customer service calls), how many tests were run, how many iterations, etc. Over time, she was able to show direct correlations between the involvement of human-centered research and design activities and the business scores (PS/NPS, etc.) The problem is that these trends aren’t readily available overnight; it takes time and commitment from business and program leadership. Ultimately, this method was able to show direct evidence of investment in human-centered research and design operations and business outcomes. And made apparent what aspects of design do and don’t impact business outcomes, ultimately proving the actual, not theoretical, value of design.

When the language of design and business merge…

Design’s capacity to drive business outcomes is actually measurable – therefore design teams should be a double-edged sword, providing users with meaningful experiences, but able to drive tangible business outcomes at the same time – for instance, faster checkout processes (happier customers, less incomplete transactions). While the actions of designers take place in empathy, and screen designs, they shouldn’t miss the opportunity to reframe design as a business discipline.

Discovering and addressing the rough spots

Another outcome of the 360 reviews of the design org is the ability to see what’s working, and where there are problems, gaps, or missed opportunities for designers to be more efficient or add more value to the org.  It also allows you to see what things are in the way of design productivity. With a lens for process, artifacts, skills, and other relevant resources, you can get a sense of where the issues are (planning, research, ideation, execution, collaboration, delivery, validation, implementation, etc.). Some metrics that can help with this are a designer satisfaction score (how happy are they?), % time working on delivery vs. administrative work, # projects delivered on time, # projects canceled, # projects added (unplanned), # projects with moved deadlines. Knowing these and asking the question, “Why?” you can start to root cause, whether it’s planning, culture, communication, etc. — giving you the framework for prioritizing the operational roadmap for a more successful model.

Signs for when you need designops

Patrizia outlines in this episode how the need for DesignOps is aligned with natural inflection points in a business’ growth.

  1.  When you’re growing fast and bringing in a lot of talent from different backgrounds, tools, cultures, languages, processes, etc.. You need a DesignOps manager to harmonize these dynamics.
  2. When the design org is scaling and building more specialized disciplines (UI design, research, content specialists etc.) the designops manager can help orchestrate cross-disciplinary processes, workflows, and collaboration models.
  3. Global expansion, when you’re dealing with teams from different design cultures and regional ways of working, you need a designops manager to help build a cohesive one-team culture.
  4. When there is churn in design staff (designers quitting or being let go on a regular basis) – that’s a sign there’s something wrong with how the design org is operating (9 months are lost between the time someone leaves unexpectedly, and a new hire comes online and is onboarded and up to speed)
  5. Finally, when the organization is expanding the portfolio of services and or products – when more research and design staff are being added to the organization (you’ll need a designops manager for all the reasons above)

Take advantage of the Balanced ScoreCard

When product teams and design leadership are determining OKRs, it’s helpful to put these outcomes into a more systems-thinking framework.  The balanced scorecard provides an extremely organized model for looking at the revenue and cost of an organization and articulating all the factors that do or can impact it.  The balanced scorecard can easily map to the designops pillars by breaking down people, processes, skills, and artifacts needed to support cost efficiencies or revenue goals – and at what altitude you need to be making an impact to achieve these goals. It provides the perfect link for designops to become a strategic business driver.

“(determining OKRs ) is a bi-dimansional way of looking at things. You’re missing out on how tings are correlated and connected. Design operations is not only design thinking, but systems thinking, because everything is correlated.”

-Patrizia Bertini

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