Creating Process. Without Creating Process.

Design Program Management within creative teams.

When we gather feedback from creative teams, we often hear things like:

And the all time best, “We need more structure.” Wait for it… and now, “Things are too structured.”

Design Program Managers (DPMs) are working on just these types of things. We strive to alleviate pain points that creative teams experience — and then iterate, iterate, iterate as the organization evolves and needs change.

A wise person once told me people will always complain. If you give people what they ask for, wait a couple months and they’ll ask for the opposite. You can’t make everyone happy or meet everyone where they are on their “comfort-for-process scale” — but what you can do is give people the tools and options to make smart decisions, ease collaboration and speed up their workflow.

Start by considering if your team would benefit from creating a DPM team. As your creative team scales, there are more and more operational, collaboration, and morale considerations. Get ahead of this by dedicating a function within your team to start tackling design operations.

You’re probably thinking, “Why would we invest in resourcing a function to work on our operations and team happiness? Our design managers and individuals can and should being doing this.” And yes, you’re right… they should be doing this. But unfortunately these often become second priority to deadlines, deliverables, and meetings. Through experience in building the LinkedIn DPM team, I’ve witnessed incredible value to the organization’s success and happiness by having someone “own” these areas. When a creative team dedicates someone who can solely focus on taking a holistic view on operations and who prioritizes the employee, team, and organization’s experience — that team will win.

DPMs are dedicated to look at the current and changing morale landscape, finding efficiencies in workflows, empowering culture ground-up, and driving initiatives forward to success. By committing a function to this, you’re allowing space for your design managers to focus on career and people development, more personal creative direction, and being the visionary for their team. Design management and DPM is a partnership, creating a synergy that results in smoother collaboration with cross-functional teams, better work, and overall happier employees. Happier people results in higher retention. Happier people attracts talent.

Now that you’re sold. Find a DPM lead and ramp up the discipline as value is uncovered. Think about these simple things as you build the team:

1. Have a clear and understood DPM purpose

First, ensure that your creative organization has a unified vision, mission and an idea of what success looks like. Is this known by everyone? Does everyone believe it? The DPM team should then rally their charter around how to enable and empower the teams and individuals towards this purpose.

At LinkedIn, our DPM Vision is:

Be the connective tissue throughout the user experience organization driving our teams to do their best work.

Our DPM Mission is:

To keep our teams efficient and on track to deliver high-quality, beautiful and essential experiences through facilitation, communication, organization, and documentation.

Know that less than 25% of your organization will understand what DPMs do or have previously worked with DPMs. Spend time educating, ramping up, and showing value over time.

2. Take time to ask

Just like when designing a product, don’t make assumptions on what the individuals, teams, and organization needs. Often when a DPM is new to a company or team, it’s natural to think that something that was successfully streamlined at a prior company will be successful anywhere. This top-down approach will not be received well.

Instead of going into implementation mode by fixing problems and taking names, start observing and interviewing. Ask designers and researchers where they struggle during the week and throughout projects. Ask them what’s missing and what their pet peeves are. Even more important, ask them what’s working well. From what’s working, the DPM can determine how or if that can be replicated and shared. Through observation, the DPM can come up with their own points of view and ways to eliminate redundancy or improve communication that the team didn’t see themselves. Create a frequency of this interview framework to check-in and tweak your operations along the way based on feedback.

3. Segment, iterate, and evolve

The biggest piece of advice I give to DPMs or aspiring DPMs is don’t hold onto anything too tightly. Be flexible as hell, but make hard decisions when you need to. Things are always shifting, so part of your role is love change and ambiguity. Bring. it. on.

What works for one design team doesn’t always work for another, even within the same organization. At LinkedIn, our DPM team manages different ways you can share your work with peers and leadership. We don’t require you to share, but instead provide you with the value behind getting buy-in from leadership, getting actionable feedback from team members, and why it’s important to practice your pitch in different forums. Working in isolation is lonely, and often leads to limited success. Make workflow choices available and easy, not required. Focus on language like “leverage” and shared goals. Find opportunities to unify successful practices, but segment with different teams as-needed. Don’t be afraid to make the leap and try them — even if everything isn’t fully baked. Know that every 3–6 months, you’ll change something due to the org changing, new team dynamics, or different types of initiatives. A good DPM will roll with it and better yet, get excited as this presents new challenges to solve.

No one like the word “process.” Well, at least no designer I know. But I do know that creative teams crave understanding, tools, way-finding and knowledge on how to achieve their goals… and that’s where DPM comes in.

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#DPM #DesignOps #LinkedInUX

Originally published in October 2017 at https://www.linkedin.com.

Operations geek. Love passionate people & infectious ideas. Trying to make sense of this beautiful, chaotic world. Current: Design & Research Ops @ LinkedIn.