Understanding DesignOps as a strategic function — PART 2


Part 2 of 2

DesignOps relies on ongoing performance assessments to constantly evaluate what can be done better to impact positively the business metrics. Yes, DesignOps’ impact is quantifiable.

Post-its with key words, such as finance, work, create.
Credits: https://www.pexels.com/@nietjuh

The application of a system thinking business mindset relies on DesignOps leaders ability to apply a solid analytical approach to quantify impact and inefficiencies and to focus on aspects that can bring more value to the organisation as a whole.

To do so DesignOps has a very specific set of KPIs, that are unique to its domain and which complement the Chief Design Officer’s performance indicators.

Design Leaders assesses the value of Design through metrics that take into account outward-looking variables, such as product and marketing dimensions. The metrics that the Design leader will consider typically include funnel related metrics, conversion and retention rates, CSAT, PRS, NPS, CES, and other engagement metrics.

On the other hand, the DesignOps leader defines internal inward looking metrics focusing on the teams’ performances and behaviours. To do so, DesignOps focuses on operational dimensions to assess what impact are the design teams creating through the ways of working and the design process and execution.

DesignOps metrics are defined by two main types of indicators: Operational Efficiency and Operational Efficacy.

Operational Efficiency are metrics related to the ways processes are streamlined and bottlenecks have been removed, and they include KPIs such as:

  • Tools’ engagement and utilisation metrics
  • Rapid testing and prototyping lead time
  • Number and type of quality reviews
  • Team productivity
  • Delivery time
  • Cost and budget ROI

Operational Efficiency focuses on how resources — time, money, people — are utilised and it defines the opportunities to maximise the organisations’ return of investment.

Operational Efficacy focuses on soft metrics that assess inner qualities of the teams and the execution of a design thinking approach. These type of KPIs measures and weights behaviours that have a direct impact on operational efficiencies such as:

  • Empathy and the capacity to deliver on an ongoing user-centred engagement
  • Ideation and experimentation cycle times
  • Composition of teams’ skills and skills’ distribution
  • Perceived value of design teams by cross-functional partners
  • Employee satisfaction and retention

Both Efficiency and Efficacy metrics deliver and impact spending and operational targets and these indicators are key to drive C-level conversation between DesignOps, Design, and cross functional partners to identify collaboration and operational opportunities. By applying a system thinking approach to the design operation, DesignOps delivers value and a strategic direction to maximise the impact of design thinking.

How to apply Efficiency and Efficacy metrics to maximise business performances

While internal inefficiencies are endemic in many organisations, inefficiencies in design can have a business impact that can erode the value and benefits that design brings to the business and have costly consequences for the organisation. This is why setting clear metrics that help understanding how design teams operate, how budget are spent, how teams are developed, becomes a strategic function to maximise efficiencies and the value of design. But how is DesignOps generating benefits and value?

Increasing efficiency by understanding teams’ time utilisation

When assessing inefficiencies it is important not only to understand what are the biggest operational issues, but to also understand how much those inefficiencies compromise the organisations’ operating values and how much inefficiencies impact culture and results.

This is why when I looked to increase the efficiency and workflows of 60 designers distributed in 7 teams across the globe, I took into account not only the internal impact, but also the impact of those inefficiencies on the company’s values, because organisational values determine and influence behaviours.
Therefore in design driven companies, design teams are expected to constantly engage and learn from users through research and rapid experiments.

In 2018 the international teams I was managing, were facing a rapid growth and operational inefficiencies were causing long hours and impacting the overall workflow and production cycle. The design teams were struggling in sourcing research participants. 
 From an analysis I run, it emerged that on average a designer spent between 2 to 2.5 days to source, contact, schedule, and reward the 5/6 participants needed for every session. With 2 weeks’ sprints, it meant that designers were spending up to 5 working days a month sourcing participants. This revealed additional inefficiencies:

  • Designers were working long hours to make up for the time spend in non-design tasks, impacting designers’ life/work balance
  • In some markets, the cost to recruit participants could be as high as $360/participant due to agency overheads
  • The lead time was between 2.5 to 4 weeks
  • The need for speed caused the widespread of poor practices

To solve for this problem, as DesignOps we implemented an internal participant sourcing service: this service would then act as an internal agency so that designers could efficiently outsource the recruitment needs of their job to a dedicated team. After a 12 months’ proof of concept, it has taken 10 months to roll out the service in all markets with a clear impact on operational and spending metrics:

  • The lead time decreased by 65%
  • The number of users involved in testing increased by 4 times
  • The spending for recruitment was reduced on average by 60%
  • The design teams saved 430 working days, equivalent to 2 FTEs, with a forecast to double this number for the second year.

Increasing efficiencies through analytics and data

One of the most common spending inefficiencies in design teams is represented by tools: organisations invest significant budget in different resources, often with no clear idea about the impact of these new tools for the end-to-end design process. Moreover, the relationship with vendors and suppliers is often transactional: design leaders have no time to focus on creating a mutually beneficial relationship and to define a tool rollout and implementation strategy with their third party suppliers.
 So, it is not uncommon that tools are rolled out with limited support and unclear expectations. And once the tool is implemented, the renewal is often automatic with no in depth analysis of analytics, engagement and utilisation metrics to assess the cost/benefit impact of the investment.

It is then cleat that crossing data points, such as tools’ analytics, designers’ feedback, and by engaging with third party vendors is essential to determine the right strategy to optimise investments and improve operations. And this is exactly where DesignOps acts.

An in-depth analysis of engagement and utilisation of tools in use in 2019, has produced significant impact on both the business and the operations, such as:

  • reducing by 60% the cost on unmoderated user testing platforms that were serving only English speaking markets by introducing new platforms that serve all 7 markets
  • Saving over 85% on cross-functional tools by assessing active licenses and utilisation to renegotiate the contracts
  • Identify tools with low engagement and collaborate with vendors and teams to create ad hoc trainings to embed the new tools in the existing workflows

These results show how a deep understanding of the operation is key for efficiencies and to empower teams: but this level of efficiency can only be achieved through a strategic lens that looks at the business impact of design decisions to maximise ROI. And this is where Design and DesignOps leader partner to define the most effective and efficient operational models for their teams and their organisation.

What’s next

By linking Design with business and by focusing on bringing tangible benefits, organisations looking to maximise their investment in Design should start looking at DesignOps as a new strategic function working alongside the Design and the organisation’s leaders to reveal the inefficiencies that compromise growth and profit.

Especially organisations that have large, distributed, or fast growing and expanding design teams can gain the biggest benefits from the introduction of DesignOps.

The examples demonstrate DesignOps’ strategic function in connecting creative and user centred design processes with the need to create business value through optimised execution and streamlined processes.

This is because of all functions within the organisations, DesignOps is the critical enabler for organisational ambidexterity.
 With its focus on processes, resources, teams, budget, and operational metrics, DesignOps delivers a major impact on the exploitative functions: the in depth analysis and understanding of all issues that undermine design teams’ capacity to deliver routine tasks is a critical mean that empowers design leaders to invest more on explorative opportunities.

In the example mentioned earlier, the 430 working days that were gained through the introduction of new processes, can be re-invested by design teams in explorative initiatives, with each team gaining on average 60 working days. This creates additional value and can impact business performance and innovation capacity.

By reducing the need to focus on operations, design leaders can concentrate on the execution and definition of the design and innovation strategy, knowing that all operational aspects are being taken care.

And by increasing operational efficiencies and streamlining the end-to-end processes, DesignOps creates the conditions for ambidexterity and higher impact both on the organisations’ ability to deliver innovation and the teams’ capacity to grow and expand.

Few functions have the same capacity to impact organisations at the same level and to support both innovation, customer driven innovation, business performances, and efficiencies as DesignOps.

But this can only be achieved if DesignOps is positioned as a strategic role within the organisation, with a clear remit and vision, and with the support to execute the strategy.

The UX Collective donates US$1 for each article published on our platform. This story contributed to Bay Area Black Designers: a professional development community for Black people who are digital designers and researchers in the San Francisco Bay Area. By joining together in community, members share inspiration, connection, peer mentorship, professional development, resources, feedback, support, and resilience. Silence against systemic racism is not an option. Build the design community you believe in.

Published by Pat

DesignOps alchemist