My experience in the role, so far.

First, some context…

Cisco Umbrella (formerly OpenDNS) is cloud cyber-security software for enterprises. I joined the company back in 2016 to manage the team in charge of the experience of the product. About six ago, after a re-org, I was given the role of “, Product Design and Design Operations” which essentially meant that I would continue to manage my team as usual plus a new emphasis around design operations.

Defining the role

is a new discipline. I first heard the term in mid-2017 and the design community is trying to define it, but its value is well understood.

My original definition of DesignOps was something like this…

Or better put, I was thinking about DesignOps as mostly delivery-focused. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend the 2017 DesignOps Summit, but I got to review the videos and presentations and I particularly liked this definition by Kristin Skinner:

“Design Operations focuses on the health of the practice, the people, and the projects.”

This is a much more accurate and holistic definition, and it allowed me to set my goals around three pillars: process and tools, team, and delivery.

Setting goals

Once I had more clarity around the role, it was time to assess the state of design operations and set some objectives. When I looked up the traditional definition of operations management on Wikipedia (because why not?) I ran into the following statement:

The operations function requires management of both the strategic and day-to-day production of goods and services.

Following this concept, I set strategic and day-to-day (or tactical) goals for each of the three pillars I mentioned above.

Measuring success

The goals helped me come up with an action plan, but would I know if I was being successful? It goes back to the goals. Some are binary (accomplished/not accomplished), some are quantifiable (survey results). The ones that are not measurable I ended up breaking into smaller objectives. For example, “Evangelize design system with engineering teams” turned into “Host one workshop per quarter” and “Write an article about the design system in company newsletter”. I’m reviewing these with my manager every quarter and collecting a list of accomplishments that hopefully convey the value of DesignOps.

Open questions

While I have a lot more clarity on what DesignOps is and I feel more comfortable in the role, there are still some open questions like:

  • Where does my “regular” product design management job end and where does my DesignOps manager job begin?
  • Should research be part of DesignOps or a separate practice (“ResearchOps”)?
  • What does scaling look like? Will we ever need a dedicated DesignOps team?

There are many interesting discussions happening in the design community around those topics. Medium is, of course, a great place to share knowledge, but my favorite forum has been the DesignOps and ResearchOps calls organized by Louis Rosenfeld and friends.

It’s been an exciting journey so far. If you’re in DesignOps, let’s connect — I’d love to know what you’re up to!

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