Just about a year ago, I introduced a concept called the Design Management Office, or DMO. It’s the manifestation of the approach we’ve taken in thinking about and implementing design over the course of many years of working with design teams at large organizations. At its core, the DMO helps companies scale and structure their design teams to provide the maximum possible value back to their organization and drive change.
Since that post, we began having conversations with design leaders in large organizations across a range of industries to gain a deeper understanding of how scale and culture affect the ability of their teams to deliver the value of design. We heard about teams sidelined by product and technology stakeholders who didn’t fully understand what value designers would bring to their projects, or how to bring them in without blowing up the timeline. We heard about the designers on these teams who were told they were being hired to reimagine the futures of industries but found themselves working on incremental improvements that stopped and started as inter-political tides waxed and waned. We heard about the leaders of these teams scrambling to translate design efforts into the hard metrics and “business speak” needed to share progress and justify budgets with the rest of the organization.
As we sifted through these pain points, we found they boiled down to three aspects of a designer’s work: the processes they use, the people who do the work, and the projects they take on.
Separately, these pain points can also be mapped to three kinds of problems, or stages in the design process:
- Defining a point of view
- Equipping designers by putting the right supporting tools and processes in place
- Connecting and relating to the rest of the organization
We’re calling this classification system the Design Management Framework. Based on our work, we believe it describes the full scope of what design teams in large organizations must manage in order to successfully deliver the value of design. By breaking down each pillar into components, we can identify opportunity areas unique to each organization’s design group. Below, we take a closer look at each of the three pillars—Process, People, and Projects—and their components that make up the Design Management Framework.
Plenty has been written to explain the ins-and-outs of contextual research, personas, user journey mapping, usability, and other aspects of user-centered design. Because you’re reading this, you’ve probably bought into the idea that selecting the right methods and applying best practices leads to better results. This pillar on process isn’t meant to rehash the details of individual techniques. Instead, it is meant to address the common pitfalls that design teams run into when trying to implement user-centered design processes at scale in large organizations and, more importantly, what can be done to avoid them.
- User-centered Design – Define a point of view on how the design team achieves a user-centered approach.
- Research & Insights – Equip the design team with tools and resources that support research and insights.
- Design Systems – Equip the design team with systems that support their processes.
- Organizational Transformation – Connect the rest of the organization to the design process.
To businesses already bought into the value of design, investing millions of dollars on staffing, equipment, conferences, and workspace might feel like it’s enough. But what does it really take to build a sustainable team? How do you resolve tensions around relating and assimilating with the larger organization? In today’s overheated competitive marketplace for digital designers, it’s hard enough getting talented designers in the door, let alone keeping them there. Organizations need to provide opportunities for designers to grow and learn. With regards to people, the Design Management Framework addresses what it takes to build sustainable teams and provide opportunities for continuous learning and growth.
- Designing Teams – Define team structures that fit the needs of the work.
- Learning & Knowledge Management – Equip the design team with business and technology knowledge.
- Individual Career Growth – Equip designers with a tailored career path.
- Standardized Team Approaches – Connect with the organization to deliver quality work through planning, scoping, and communication.
You’ve hired all these designers, now it’s time to see results. As designers, to keep our seat in business class, we have to first execute, then communicate how exactly design impacts the bottom line. Other teams have to track successes and failures with metrics, and it’s time for design to do the same. You might be able to say, “We’ve increased revenue by 10 percent since we expanded our design team,” but eventually the C-suite will want to understand the ROI in a more detailed way. Design teams must understand the larger picture and create compelling products and services that will utilize and maximize capabilities. The Design Management Framework breaks down projects to demonstrate design’s impact at scale.
- Project Pipeline – Define and communicate what kinds of projects the design team takes on.
- Project Framing – Equip the design team with tools and resources that solve business problems.
- Impact Evaluation – Equip the design team to evaluate its impact on the organization.
- Value Communication – Connect the value design teams bring with the rest of the organization.
What Comes Next?
As we wrote in the initial post introducing the Design Management Office, it’s an exciting time for the design community. The dialogue around design leadership and management is expanding. Evidenced by the other conversations around design management — Artefact’s efforts to measure an organization’s design maturity via a thoughtfully crafted self-assessment survey, to John Maeda’s revival of his Design Leadership platform, to the wonderful new book by Peter Merholz and Kristen Skinner on the design of design organizations that explores methods for building a successful and effective design group within a larger organization — it’s clear that there’s much more territory to cover.
Our vision for design management is a dedicated, centralized platform—whether it’s a group, initiative, or office—within the design team. A Design Management Office and its staff should have authority that sits outside of project teams that gives them responsibility for strategically tackling each area of the Design Management Framework. While the solution looks a little different for every design group, the result is the same—a DMO should: increase leverage of design teams by shaping projects faster and more effectively; improve quality by setting and evolving effective standards; help build and retain a high-performing design staff; and communicate the value of design in terms that business stakeholders understand.
As organizations quickly mature beyond design awareness and begin investing in design capabilities, design leaders will be held accountable for the return on investment. That means they’ll have to transition from evangelizing to building and managing large—often global—design teams while fighting against the problems of scale and culture. This new breed of design leaders—or design managers—needs a strategy. Soon, we’ll share assessment tools and strategies for installing and operating your own DMO.
Work to date, on the DMO and this post, has been a team effort (as is the case with almost everything we do at Moment). Big props and thanks to Alanna, Candra, Limor, Rori, Jeremiah, Jacob and Meaghan and everyone else who contributed.