Navigating the DesignOps wilderness | by Jake Geller | Mar, 2024


The topography of initiatives a Design Operations team encounters is incredibly varied. They may spend one week traversing a large cross-functional program, the next digging into an ad hoc software request, and the following navigating an unanticipated re-org. Add to that the challenges of effective change management, ongoing upkeep, and limited resources… well, it can be disorienting at times.

In this article, we’ll walk through practical strategies to chart your course: how to identify your team’s needs, prioritize opportunities, and distill a focused (yet flexible!) DesignOps roadmap. Additionally, we’ll cover how to bring partners along for the journey and build the trust you’ll need to drive meaningful change.

Whether you’re in an established Design Operations function or starting your first 30 days as a team of one, your job is to listen and to learn before introducing change. In order to identify and prioritize opportunities for a DesignOps roadmap, you first need to understand the current state of the UX org: what are the pain-points, cross-functional gaps, and other team needs that DesignOps can meaningfully address?

A variety of methods are available to go about this. A common approach if you are a new DesignOps leader is an interview-based listening tour (sometimes called a discovery tour). For a great primer on listening tours, see Adam Fry-Pierce and Salomé Mortazavi’s discussion The first 90 Days of the Head of DesignOps and Tova Soroka’s Listening Tour Playbook. Other supplemental methods may include leadership workshops, pulse surveys, retros, and more.

Method is less important than intent and outcome: seek to understand prior to introducing change, and cultivate relationships with the ICs, managers, and cross-functional partners who will inform and adopt the processes and programs your team introduces.

Whichever approach you take, your next step is to synthesize learnings and document a Lay-of-the-Land, a current state audit, and an assessment of DesignOps focus areas. This document is a living, collaborative artifact that partners UX and cross-functional leads. We break it down by People, Process, Systems, and Cross-functional initiatives — but align your Lay-of-the-Land with the model you use to discuss DesignOps within your org.


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