Design Ops - Improving design efficiencies and processes

Hostmaker teams are constantly searching for new ways to streamline the processes to work towards a common goal. The design department had a scenario worth looking at to improve its efficiency and collaboration. Identifying the key issues affecting the design team and tackling them with strategic solutions, allow the company to optimise optimize design team’s time and skills while winning operational efficiencies, and improving internal collaboration.

The challenge was to build remotely scalable design processes, as the international brand and product designer team -spread out between London and Barcelona offices, also working remotely- grew from 3 to 8 people in four months. This challenge was complemented with a second one: improve collaboration between the team and with the other teams.

After some research 5 issues were identified, assessed, investigated, dissected and properly accounted for within the business goals and objectives.

a) Excess of operational work for the designers
Designers had to deal with a great amount of operational and admin work (email comms., suppliers relationships, execute payments, etc.), which caused distractions and reduced the time available to execute design-focused tasks.
b) No requests centralisation
Designers had to deal with a great amount of operational and admin work, this caused distractions and reduced the time available to execute design-focused tasks.
c) Project management tools differed from the rest of the teams
While design teams used Trello and previously, Asana, to manage their tasks and projects, product management and tech teams used Jira. The main difference between these project management platforms is that both Trello and Asana are based on to-do lists of items, while Jira runs in timeframes following Scrum principles and framework.
Designers work with multiple teams, so to manage the tasks they have to access many different boards. This meant that the designers invested too much time switching from one platform to another, and the design director had to spend much time putting all together in the design board, to have an overview and guarantee a balanced workload between all the team members.
d) Disorganised shared documentation
Designers worked independently with their process for documentation and storing folders in different ways, without a unified naming convention. For designers who have to work on someone else's project, it was time-consuming to find relevant project information and materials.
e) Team accountability
There wasn’t continuous monitoring of design tasks, nor control of its tracking. We used to do it on a quarterly basis, which didn’t allow us to make real-time decisions and to adapt to current business needs.
Continuously, the following decisions were driven by process optimisation, team scalability, cost-effectiveness and technology feasibility factors.
a) Hire a project manager
The amount of operational work was excessive enough to bring a new role in the team. Among other responsibilities, the primary duties for the new project manager were receiving and defining the brand and product design requests, assigning the job to a designer depending on the skills required and the workload. Consequently, designer's were able to focus directly on their design tasks.
b) Centralise requests to the Design Ops - Project Manager
The team director and project manager worked closely to plan the week by putting all the ongoing tasks, upcoming projects and follow-up tasks. This plan was then translated to the team members during the weekly sprint meeting. Designers were encouraged to give feedback about their proposed task plan for the sprint, so they could actively commit to the deadlines. Although stakeholders kept sending requests through several channels, they were all redirected to the project manager who could act as first filter on defining the briefing and, depending on urgency and estimated work time, place the request on the backlog to be reviewed in the planning meeting.
c) Move to Jira and scrum methodology
Although design activities have their particular needs different from other teams, an investigation into the best practices of using Jira for designers concluded that this platform has great potential — not just to be aligned with other members, but also to empower the team to be task-effective and scalable.
We adopt a mix of agile methodologies where we plan with one-week timeframes in mind, but at the same time, remain flexible enough to bring last-minute tasks to the schedule. Brand and product designers created their board with all team tasks. Product designers linked their tickets to their pertinent squad team. They could participate in the ongoing tickets through comments and sharing files, but also by keeping all the squad members up-to-date with the design status.
d) Reorganise Google Drive and set rules
The design team was gathered to discuss their needs and how they could organise the material in a clear and straightforward folder system. Once they collected everyone's ideas of best practices, inputs and comments were put into place through a system tree outline. They also defined a naming convention, to keep the system organised and speak the same language.
The team's commitment to developing this new procedure was so strong that even just one month after implementation, the team reviewed the usage of this system and they unanimously agreed they had seen a significant improvement in their jobs. Designers could now find their teamwork effectively without spending too much time maintaining it.
e) Automate design tasks tracking
We connected JIRA to our existing design tracking google sheet via JIRA API, to be able to have an updated detailed overview of the design tasks per designer and project (E.g. the stakeholders with the highest design demand, design requests received by the city, projects associated with OKR's, etc.)
Having real-time quantitative data in context was a massive step for the design team. It allowed to quickly prepare any kind of reports (e.g. risk assessment reports), enhance decision-making, prove that all the projects were aligned with business objectives and priorities and optimise processes continually.
In unifying project management tools to be aligned with other teams in the company, and hiring a project manager to oversee operations, it became much easier to prioritise designers’ tasks and ensure a fair workload across the board. As well as this, by developing a new process for documenting and sharing projects, designers are now able to jump into the same project as their teammates, so that different designers with different skill sets can contribute with their best efforts for an optimal outcome.
As a result, the team was equally loaded with design tasks for balanced and healthy teamwork. Besides, the outcome wasn’t just delivered within the deadline but also with a better quality finish. Indirectly, the above solutions have also served designers to improve their internal relations and develop cross-team relationships for an improved working environment.

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Project Manager
Senior Product Designer