Setting the Table for Dynamic Change

Jacqui Frey
Senior Manager of Design Operations, Mailchimp

Alison Rand
Senior Director, Head of Design Operations, InVision

From the DesignOps Summit website:
Change is the rule, not the exception, and it’s the catalyst for innovation and growth. Design as a discipline is rooted in the process of iteration and change. However, scaling design requires a certain level of preparation in the system for it to be understood, absorbed, and implemented. This process manifests itself in and through Design Operations. In this session, Alison and Jacqui will lead the audience through some interactive exercises to better understand change and outline how DesignOps can help their design orgs navigate ambiguity.

Alison writes about DesignOps on Medium, and is a curator and the “Dear Abby” of the Rosenfeld Media design community. Jacqui leads DesignOps at Mailchimp. She is currently working on a book for Rosenfeld Media about DesignOps.

These conferences have so many positive experiences and affirmations, but we don’t really talk about our failures. We are going to fall down a lot. SInce we are trailblazers in this nascent discipline – so that failure feels even more acute. You are not alone.

Jacqui thought she could single-handly bring Design Thinking to Mailchimp. It took her some time to realize how much help she needed to do that successfully. Alison thought she could bring everything she knew from consulting. They started calling her Dominus from Marvel, whose super power is luck. She was jumping between burning buildings putting out trash fires, but her boss wanted her to be more intentional, less reactive.

But this chart shows you will have zero successes until you try it all:

Design leadership and change are inextricably tied – what company is not in transition? How do we lead through the change when most people are unwilling to change and they need to.

In our ‘zines (which look like church bulletins!), one of the quotes is about expecting change – be prepared for it.

Industrial age to the information age laid the foundation for change management – as companies needed to respond to changing environments. And now change management is a management consultancy thing. But change is the job.

We come into situations with our 30-60-90 day plan. But we spend the first six months trying to unravel the hairball. But we never can.

DesignOps is not just about design. If we don’t think about the system, we are destined to fail. How do we think beyond current context and imagine the ripple effect our changes will have. We have read a lot of books – like John Cotter, Pace Lerring, and more. It’s science.

The design layer is the art to that science – it’s about creating an environemtn witheh that schange can be redlive – safety, trust empowerment, and community

  • Start with a small group. Don’t come in hot. You need to lean on design thinking – do discovery. Gather and build momentum with support from the top.
  • Identify a foundational change. Identify an area that could have a great impact – that will give you a ripple effect and unlock a new areas. If you focus on something small and do it well, it builds trust and gives you runway to do a little bit more.
  • Roadshow it. In advertising it’s called effective frequency. It’s seven times. Those steps can be around sharing the idea, interacting with people it will impact, and so on. You have to bring people along with you.
  • Surviving victory. Don’t celebrate too soon, this is a game of inches.
  • Organizational maturity. In this Invision model, DesignOps is brought in between levels 2 and 3. So be mindful what level your organization is in, and cognizant of whta they might have an appetite for:
  • Trends and Patterns. Let’s leverage each other’s work rather than build from scratch.

The centerfold of the bulletin is a game board, it’s a combination of Choose Your Own Adventure and Shutes & Ladders. Here is the gameboard:

This is a good reminder that we don’t always get to go down the happy path. It an be hard and you can learn a lot – and admire how you’e changed and the organization has evolved as well.

At the end of the day it’s not about design or product, but about the customer. We need to do more than just modify existing prodructs or services – we need to change how our companies work. We need people to collectively understand the changes we’re making and the trade-offs.

Lean into dynamic change. All the players are at the table, whether or not they agree, they are there for a common cause. We haven’t just invited them, we’ve set the damn table. Sometimes we have to host the damn party.

It is one noisy table, but listen for the trends and with tactical empathy.

Feelings and anxiety can live large. Dig into underlying motivations so that you can understand.

Move thoughtfully and fix things.

Alexis Lloyd

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