Organisations have always faced a challenge in balancing productivity and creativity due to organisations’ constraints and priorities. But the right DesignOps strategy can deliver innovation at scale and achieve a true Organisational Ambidexterity.
DesignOps’ goal is to maximise value generation for both the business, the design teams, and the design leaders through the creation of efficiencies and the optimisation of end-to-end design processes. If its goals were important in the pre-pandemic world, the pandemic has hugely increased organisations’ need for flexibility and agility to effectively cope with the new WFH (Woking From Home) situation.
The sudden disruption in teams’ operations and ways of working have been a major challenge for most organisations, with the exception of those companies which implemented a successful DesignOps function before the pandemic hit: organisations with mature and ready DesignOps teams have been able to adapt faster and better to the new ways of working, minimising disruption and ensuring continuity even through the pandemic.
Yet the value of DesignOps is way more significant than supporting organisations’ productivity during exceptional times: DesignOps is a transformational discipline that can and has a major impact on organisations’ capacity to deliver innovation.
DesignOps and the balance between productivity and creativity
If properly implemented, with a solid performance driven approach, DesignOps can have a strong transformative impact, even more so in times of uncertainty and change. In the past decades there has been a growing attention on organisations’ behaviours that enable or hinder business’ capacity to overcome competition and exceed in innovation and customer satisfaction.
Organisations have shown a dual and ambiguous attitude when it comes to define a strategy that balances the investment in innovation with execution of ordinary business as usual- type of tasks. A large amount of companies struggle to fully combine the tension between productivity at scale and innovation: many companies are still looking for the best operational model that enables them to effectively combine innovation focused efforts, also known as explorative aspirations, with their exploitation needs, focused at utilising the existing competitive advantages and ensure the business keeps running.
An ideal state would see organisations being able to perfectly combine productivity with speed and creativity: ensure innovation and execution of the ordinary tasks is balanced to maximise business revenues and profits.
DesignOps plays a key role when it comes to balancing and taking advantage of both exploitative and explorative approaches and this area has not been fully investigated.
Explorative and Exploitative efforts: balancing the business as usual with innovation
Exploitation can be defined as the organisational practice focusing on taking advantage of existing concepts, services, and products to impact operational productivity and to maximise returns. Exploitation is considered a safer strategy as it reduces investments in innovation while allowing the organisation to exploit existing ideas, scale, and maximise productivity. But the competitive advantage is eroded over time, and this is why an exploitative approach is not sustainable on the long term and it requires to be counterbalanced by explorative engagement to generate new concepts and new competitive advantages.
Exploration is a riskier approach that emerges from experiments and it is focused on delivering ground-breaking and disruptive innovation. These two organisational attitudes are equally necessary for organisations to thrive, yet many businesses failed to fully implement efficient end to end processes that could empower this balance, also called Organisational Ambidexterity.
Ambidexterity has been defined by Tushman and O’Reilly (the original researchers that came up with the concept) as the The ability to simultaneously pursue both incremental and discontinuous innovation to generate value through both explorative and revolutionary, and exploitative / evolutionary innovations and change.
The tension between operational excellence (exploitation) and innovation (exploration) is one of Design’s key dichotomies, yet exploitation and exploration should be both part of the same design process and solving for one will necessarily impact the other.
By reducing the time designers spend performing routine tasks through better E2E processes and ways of working, DesignOps enables design teams to invest in innovative initiatives and use their time for higher added value explorations.
By streamlining the exploitative processes with templates, an integrated tools’ ecosystem, unified processes that empower designers to execute ordinary tasks without delays, DesignOps generates the conditions to invest more resources in the explorative phase.
By streamlining productivity and scaling the capacity to deliver business as usual and repetitive tasks, DesignOps enables and opens up new opportunities to develop creativity and foster innovation.
How DesignOps’ generated efficiencies can impact and push Innovation
A properly laid out explorative process, with unified steps and generative methods will allow the organisation to gather better insights and to be able to identify new user problems that can lead to the definition of new competitive advantage.
DesignOps empowers ambidexterity by simultaneously streamlining both the explorative and exploitative processes so that designers can work at speed in a rapid iterative environment where exploitation serves exploration and vice versa.
This is where DesignOps becomes the key function in an organisation driving a new competitive advantage through the ability to optimise Design’s E2E processes to enable explorative and innovation-focused practices by taking into account operational and business needs (AD Little, 2018).
DesignOps main remit is therefore to create the optimal conditions for ambidexterity and to support the organisation to manage ambiguity and uncertain times by balancing competing factors such internal tensions, business goals, and operational performances.
By enabling ambidexterity DesignOps has a direct impact on business performances and key metrics, affecting revenue and growth through a more efficient utilisation of resources enabled by the combined analysis of design processes and business targets.
That altitude is a new altitude that businesses have not fully implemented: yet if a single DesignOps initiative can save the equivalent of 4 full time employees (see here), it means that DesignOps can generate the condition to invest in innovation with no (or limited) cost for the organisation by simply eliminating endemic inefficiencies in the design operations.
Because by streamlining processes and reducing inefficiencies in the ordinary, lower added value and most frequently performed tasks, DesignOps multiplies the ability to maximise time and resources to be invested in initiative that can have a higher return of investment, like product and service innovation.
This is how DesignOps can become the most impactful enabler for organisational ambidexterity and it can drive innovation at scale.