What Makes a Healthy Design Team Healthy?

This has been an interesting week. Monday I attended a product404 event where my friend Butler Raines talked about creating a product-led organization at SalesLoft.

Then my book was released on Tuesday and my inbox exploded with questions like "why did you write the book?" and "what's the one big take-away?"

Just yesterday I participated in the Adobe UX Leader Summit and the same question popped up again. – How do you build a great product design team?

As my good friend Jared Spool says, “Design is the rendering of intent.” It’s the process of getting ideas out of your head and into the real world.

Building on that thought, Design Operations is how you define and manage the process of getting ideas out of your head and into the real world.

In simple terms, Design Operations are the processes, tasks, activities, and behaviors it takes to create a product. It’s more than a script you follow or a specific set of tools. It’s all of that bundled together. It’s partly things you do and partly how you think about the things you do.

The typical company has people in three primary roles, or types of people: Visionaries, Technicians, and Operators. In a startup, the Visionary is usually the founder who had the idea in the first place. In larger companies, the Visionary usually comes from a business team and is someone who is trying to achieve a strategic goal for the organization. They are typically goal-oriented thinkers with a bias for action. Technicians are usually developers, engineers, and analysts—the people who think logically, want order, and avoid chaos. Operators are the people who make sure things are getting done. They are typically relationship-oriented and help manage the tension and build consensus between the contrasting forces of Visionaries and Technicians.

All three roles are essential. You might fill all three roles, or you might have different people in each one. That’s not important for this conversation. What is important is that you have a common language for all of these types of people (or roles) to refer to as they are building the product together.

What came out of all these conversations is basically this...

A great design team

  • stays focused on the customer's needs,
  • is aligned on the outcome they want to achieve, 
  • is aligned on the tools and processes they use,
  • trusts in each other's abilities and intentions,
  • communicates early, often, and with transparency,
  • can execute with exceptional quality, speed, and efficiency

How you build your team to have those traits will depend on your organization. You might think it's easier in small companies where fewer people are involved. Not always true. Fewer people usually means easier communication and simpler processes, but also more responsibility on each person. In larger orgs the responsibility is more spread out, but communication is harder and it's tough to get more people all pointing in the same direction. 

Long story short, no matter the size of your organization you should stay focused on getting the team tuned into common goals and working together as a unit. It's not easy, but when it works the results can be extraordinary.

Related from Cooper - Seven ways to lead your team to creativity

Posted in Design, Design Thinking, UX Strategy, Design Process, Design Method

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