Design Management

The framework

Process, People, and Measurement.

John Devanney November 7, 2016

Earlier this year 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.

That introduction was the beginning of a larger conversation with our internal teams, clients, and you, the reader, and we’d like to continue it here. Since that post, we’ve articulated the components of the DMO with design managers from a number of organizations across finance, healthcare, and media and matched these components to meet their individual needs. The particular business priorities, product portfolios, and organizational structures of different companies each require a different DMO, so we’ve built an adaptable framework that can be customized for any organization through a structured implementation process. While the solution looks a little different for every design group, the result is the same: The DMO creates leverage, drives consistent execution, builds sustainable capacity, and communicates the value of the design team.

Whether you’re building a design team from scratch or working to optimize an existing one, we’ve shaped the DMO to identify an organization’s strengths and weaknesses and to provide a blueprint for growth and improvement. In the spirit of sharing our findings as we continue to shape and evolve design’s value, here are the three pillars that frame the DMO: Process, People, and Measurement.

1. Influence through Process

The concept and shaping of Process helps design teams leverage and enhance the quality of project work through the application of best practices in design systems and standards. It’s about knowing how to conduct research and gather insights that ultimately informs the output. This includes implementing user-centered design across the organization and recognizing that the design process starts long before it’s time to build a prototype. It’s about inviting the design team into the room earlier to better represent the user’s interests in conversations about business priorities. What’s good for the user becomes good for the business’ bottom line.

2. Capacity through People

We think of People as a pillar because it’s People that provide the structure for defining who you are as a design team and how you work together. As you build an in-house team or think about hiring consultants, the methods embedded in the DMO framework can help your organization hire from different backgrounds, bringing a range of skills that suit your company’s needs. Once you’ve found the right group, it’s also important to invest in their growth. The DMO’s methods for sharing knowledge across organizations encourages designers to pursue learning outside of the office, helping them grow stronger as designers and strengthens the team as a whole. We can help set your designers up for success by laying out a standardized approach to projects, starting with the formation of project teams made up of people with complementary skills that meet a project’s needs.

3. Impact through Measurement

The third pillar, Impact, provides guidance for design teams that better communicates their value in relation to business goals. Establishing a transparent design team increases visibility within an organization, reduces wasted effort, and acts as a driver for change. But working smarter and making sure people outside the design group recognize design’s influence on the business as a whole can be difficult. To tackle that difficulty, the DMO lays out best practices for constructively evaluating projects and communicates the mix of quantitative and qualitative value your team brings to the organization. Prior to the DMO, it was particularly challenging to quantify designers’ contributions, but thanks to the tools we’ve built that help design teams communicate their value, we tell a more complete story, beyond just the numbers.

These three pillars of the DMO represent the fundamentals that an organization needs in order to deliver the value of design over time. By breaking down each pillar into components, we can identify opportunity areas unique to each organization’s design group.


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.

Moment will continue to develop the DMO through the work we do with a small group of partners to better understand their design management challenges and how the DMO can help solve them. If you’re a design manager or leader within a large digital product design team and would like to participate, let us know here. We appreciate your input and look forward to continuing the conversation.

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, CandraJacob and Meaghan and everyone else who contributed.


John Devanney

Managing Director