Flow and Superfluidity for Design Orgs

Flow and Superfluidity for Design Orgs
Jacqui Frey, Director of Design Operations, MailChimp

From the Design Operations Summit website:
As DesignOps leaders, we face the challenge of establishing industry practices, organizations, and roles new to our businesses and to design. At MailChimp, we’ve outlined a strategic roadmap and metrics to communicate and execute our vision. Jacqui Frey shows how MailChimp stepped outside of design and drew from patterns in nature and human behavior to envision DesignOps programs, frameworks, systems, and metrics to scale their design organization.

In her talk, Jacqui is going to share the journey to finding their strategy; through that you might assess whether or not flow and superfluidity are useful concepts for your team.

She came from sales operations, sales training and enablement, as well as marketing operations.  She studied sociology in college.  So her background is really in business and social sciences.

The company was founded in 2001, and the CEO was the first designer.  The first design department wasn’t established until 2016.  They are growing rapidly, with the goal of being 15+ next year.

In the beginning they were focused on breadth, not depth – understanding requests and supporting the business.  They used that to build the business case and scale the team.  Now they are able to be forward-looking.


It is a multi-dimensional story.  It’s critical to have the right understanding within the group.  At the beginning, there was the risk of boiling the ocean, and a drop in productivity as they tried to put the right systems in place.  She stepped back to look at the pattern in what she was experiencing.  She was an NCAA Division I volleyball player, part of the best season that Georgia Tech ever had.  She was able to focus on her game and getting better because of the schedules, structure, and leadership around her.

Through research into sports psychology she found her way to the work of Mihaly Csikzentmihili and his book Flow: The Psycholoy of Optimal Experience.  What if the job of DesignOps was to reduce friction?  frey-02

Superfluidity is a characteristic of a few elements; at a certain temperature it removes all friction indefinitely.  Is there a condition in the environment that will help us meet our goals?frey-03

These concepts seemed to resonate with her team, so they started using it in their communications, and in some beta programs.  Three subteams emerged, including Business Operations, CX Practice, and Design Production; er role had to change as well.

  • The CX Practice looks after CX, UX, Deign Programs, processes, and tools.  Continous Growth (learning), and building a Design Community (both internally and externally).  If we condition the eivornment for growth, will the inevestment provide growth for the group, or for an individual designer?
  • Design Production does workflow managenent (general program mamangent), manages weekly operations,  and they help with Quality Gates (and measurement of quality), and also infrastrucxture and tooling.
  • Business Operations includes budgetary management, vendor management, supply chain management, and retail operations.

Their hypothesis is that if we improve areas of friction, people’s ability to achieve goals or “optimal performance” will also improve.

For Flow, their North Star Metrics include Growth, Attribution and Design eNPS scores. For Superfluidity, they look at Dept Process Scores, Retro Score, Cfx NPS Scores.

Jacqui’s message to us is that if you really diverge and explore other fields, you will learn from them to inspire your own work.

1 Comments on “Flow and Superfluidity for Design Orgs”

  1. Pingback: Design Ops 2018 – Recap | Natalie Hanson

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