Installing and operating a DMO

Design Management Office

Installing and operating a DMO

Three steps to design management nirvana.

John Devanney October 23, 2017

After gaining a deeper understanding of the elements that make up the Design Management Framework, you’ll probably realize that no two Design Management Offices will operate in the same way. However, if you’re in search of a clear path to design management nirvana, consider the three steps to installing your own DMO: Assess, Propose, and Operate.

While you might already be managing a large team, understanding the groundwork you’ve laid is the first step. From there, you’ll be able to evaluate and design the best approach with business priorities in mind. Lastly, the ongoing operation of a DMO takes dedication in order for it to have real impact on your organization.

Setting up a Design Management Office won’t happen overnight and that’s OK—just remember any large organizational change takes time.


The first step to creating a Design Management Office is to make an honest assessment of the current state of your design operations. Start with our assessment survey on your own to capture your perspective on your organization’s strengths and weaknesses. After completing your assessment, gather teams, stakeholders, and partners and have these groups also assess design’s impact in the same way.

Once you’ve gathered these valuable assessments, synthesize the information and highlight areas where stakeholders agree and disagree on opportunities for improvement and share with those involved.


Start delivering design at scale right now.

Take the Design Management Office Assessment Survey to uncover opportunity areas at your organization. After completing the survey, you’ll get a free download the book, The Design Management Office: A guidebook for delivering design at scale.


Once you’ve fully assessed your design operations with the proper teams, you can roadmap the best DMO approach against your business priorities. Again, use the Design Management Framework as a guide.

You might choose to go stage-by-stage tackling the Definition components, the Equip ones, then onto the Connect phase. Or you might want to address all of the Process components, then move onto People, then Projects. Or maybe your assessment uncovers strengths in certain areas and weaknesses in others. Place your focus on laying the groundwork, then find ways to distinguish the areas where you’ll place resources.


After you land on an approach, outline the ROI you anticipate from your effort and roadmap more projects that will help you achieve your intended marks. Determine what your DMO team or structure looks like. It could be a long-standing dedicated team or a project-by-project task force. Secure a budget that corresponds (this could mean time or actual funding to hire outside consultants), socialize your plans with the company, get approval, then staff your DMO projects. Once your plan is in place, move on to operating your DMO.


We’ve seen organizations run projects to improve elements of the Design Management Framework, only to fall short later on. Why? Because they fail to set up structures to execute ongoing improvements and they don’t communicate their efforts. Much of the expected value of the DMO will come as a result of on-going operation and maintenance efforts.

To make sure you don’t fall victim to the same mistakes, define a staffing and operations model for your DMO and socialize it with the organization. Decide who will be responsible for which components. Determine if you’ll hire into special fulltime positions or look to outside consultants to help you set up and run your DMO in the long-term. It’s important that these are clearly stated from the outset. From there, install and assimilate your dedicated team. Establish an onboarding model for project-by-project team members so they completely understand the tasks at hand and create a system of regular communication and reporting.

Following your proposal or roadmap, run individual projects to improve capabilities, measure and communicate their value, and iterate on the operating model as needed. As you run projects, part of properly operating a DMO is to do a temperature check. Ask, “How are things going?” Periodically gather the same group that completed the DMO assessment to see how you’ve improved or if there are areas where even more focus is needed.

The payoff

A successful Design Management Office should:

  • Increase the leverage of design teams by shaping projects faster and more effectively
  • Improve quality by setting standards and constantly iterating on them
  • Help build and retain a high-performing design staff
  • Communicate the value of design in terms that business stakeholders understand


John Devanney

Managing Director