Change Management in DesignOps
Today we dock up for the final time this season and chat to Patrizia Bertini, Associate Director of DesignOps at Babylon. I've been reading Patrizia's articles and watching her talks and webinars for a good chunk of this year, so I'm really excited to have the chance to sit down and chat to her for a good chunk of time! We talk about the idea of change management, and how it should be a formalized tool within the arsenal of DesignOps folks. Patrizia talks about how it fits into the design process, how to convince both senior leadership and the design team of good process change, and how the future of DesignOps is at the top of the org.
Today is the final episode of the season as well, so thank you for joining us as we sail around the world. If you want to help the podcast out, a review would be lovely, especially on Apple Podcasts, as it helps other folks find us!
Luke: So I suppose to start with, Patrizia, it'd be really good to understand what your path into DesignOps was.
Patrizia: It was an odd one. My background is mostly research, accessibility, usability. It started back in paleolithic 2000 and at a certain point, I started setting up research practices. And when you set up a practice, you always want your team to be and have the best experience. So you don't want it inefficiencies, you don't want stakeholders going and bothering them and asking questions and interrupting. So I started thinking about processes and how processes can be streamlined to reduce overhead from the teams and then looking at what are the tools that can help streamlining. And initially, I was doing that in agencies and then I moved into in-house where the level of complexity when you do research and you have designers in house and content designers increases, and I just saw a lot of inefficiencies, I mean, time is the only non-renewable resource we have, right. So we need to use it wisely. And when I started saying a lot of inefficiencies, I just did research what I could do the best. And I came up with a roadmap saying, Hey, we need to improve how design and research work, the end to end workflow and the processes. And before I knew, I was told that my manager was looking for our DesignOps leader and I was really interested. And this is when I learned that what I was doing was called DesignOps.
Luke: It's the thing where it's like, just people trying to make people's lives better, right, and the other designer's lives better.
Patrizia: Exactly. So someone is good at designing pixels, journeys, experiences, and someone is good at designing processes. That's all about it.
Luke: Exactly. That's it. I like to always talk about it as, it's like turning the concept of product design back in on itself and just focusing, not on the products, but on the team itself.
Patrizia: Exactly. It's very meta it's UX for UXR. So you look at the UX team experience to make sure that they have the best experience. And it's really just focusing on the how. The way I always describe Design Operations is a great design leader. Should have the big vision for what is the product? What is the experience? What is delight for the customers? And on the other side, you have someone that needs to take care of how we bring alive that experience, those are very different skills. It's a very different mindset. It's a very different focus. It's either you look outside at the customer experience or you look at how that experience is brought to life and delivered by the team. So, it's just focusing on the how we enable the designers and the design leaders to deliver experiences that matters.
Luke: And that's it. I'm so happy that this seems to be happening now because I think up until, relatively recently, like the last four or five years, it felt like a lot of companies just assumed one person could do all of this as well. It's a bit too much for one person. And as you said, it's completely different skills, well, not completely different skillsets, but it's different focuses and different priorities.
Patrizia: And also different mindsets. I mean, the time it takes to identify the right vendors, create partnerships with your vendors and suppliers, create and rework the journeys and the designer's experience. It's something that takes time if you want to do it right. And this is how probably in the past, I mean, I don't know about you, but I had some design managers that were very process-focused and others that were very product-focused. Now, each of them have a place. One is more on the operation side, which is critical, as well as a product strategy, is critical in a session. So it's kind of allowing everyone to be the best they can be in the domain they enjoy in their life.
Luke: Yeah. exactly. So I suppose one of the things that I know you best for is all of your amazing articles that you've been putting up on UX collective, which I definitely recommend following Patrizia on Twitter, so that you can just see all the articles that she posts. I don't know how you find time to write them all. One of the most recent ones was around, change management as part of your DesignOps strategy, which I find really interesting. I dunno, I feel like back in big organizations, it was one of those things that I never wanted to pay attention to and felt like that boring thing that those people in the corner did. But having read your article, it's something that a lot of DesignOps folks, especially folks in smaller organizations don't seem to really care about enough when they're thinking about how to implement change in their org. So I suppose to start off with, for those who haven't read the article what, highlighted this as a problem to you in terms of this lack of change management in the design org.
Patrizia: It's not necessarily a problem, it's the awareness. And also how you interpret DesignOps. So DesignOps is still emerging, there are a lot of flavors, a lot of different shades of Design Operations. For me, Design Operations is a highly transformative discipline. If you think about my background is in linguistics, so words are important and words matter. So operations, if you look at the business dictionary is defined as the act of changing the existing to bring more value to the customers and the users. Now, if you apply that to design operations, so operations mean that we bring some change. So we transform reality. Do we take what we have to bring more value to who are the customers? We have the design leaders, we have the design team and we have the business. So what is design operations? It's about changing the status quo to bring more value to whoever is involved in the design function. So if you start with that premisses change management becomes the most critical skill, because if you are thinking that you deal with human material, that is working in a certain way, and you see that they are frustrated, I mean Design Operations role is a lot of listening and a lot of taking in complaints from every side. But not just to show empathy, but to change that and because we deal with humans and because Design Operations aims to change and deliver more value, it's all how we make sure the change is effective. So we can't have design operations that is stuck in a room and says, Hey, from tomorrow we all go with this new process, whatever the new intake requirement process or the new delivery process or the new tool, unless you bring everyone on the journey, you will fail. My approach is, bring everyone on the same journey, share and make sure you listen and work with examples. So it's change management because people won't trust you unless you give them a reason to trust you. And how can you deliver more value if you don't transform your organization, your team, your ways of working, your budgeting, your relationship with vendors, your skill assessment, and your career progression?
Luke: That's the thing is that a lot of people assume that they do the first part, they look at the problems and they talk to a lot of people and they gather a lot of the information. Then they synthesize that they come up with a solution. Putting that solution in place seems to be the bit where they fall down and kind of go, well we have the solution here it is, go.
Patrizia: Yeah, but if no one is adopting your solution, it's not a solution, it’s a problem
Luke: Exactly. And it's funny cause it's like, I know that you talked a lot about how, cause you know one of the favorite things of design leaders is double diamond approach, and talk about putting that extra diamond in there, right?
Patrizia: Exactly. Because how does it work? So literally, what is DesignOps for me? It starts with listening. So I see the double diamond starting with an extra element, which is the intake, listening the empathy. So what is the empathy? What are people telling you? And then try to create, assess and have a hypothesis. I'm a big fan of Lean UX. Assess the problem, get data, quantify the pain, and then play it back to the team. Not just use the leadership team, not just to your peers, but to everyone in the design org and make sure we agree that these are the pains. So, this is what I've heard, this is how I rationalize, this is how I quantify, this is how I prioritize, do you agree with me? It's step number one, it's what we were mentioning in the Lewin Framework the unfreeze stage. So when change management, you have to create the conditions when you realize that there's potential for improvement. And that problems are just the step before a solution. So we need to create the urgency and the awareness that, Hey, this is causing problems and this is causing problems that we can quantify in a number of working days lost, in the number of budget spent, in quality, the quantity of rework that the teams are doing whatever unit you want to take. So if we all agree that there's an urgency, there’s a problem, it can be quantified, we can also agree that, okay, should we start thinking about solutions? And this is where the change happens with the buy-in from everyone and from the team because at that point Design Operations, it's in a position to bring ideas to the table and find allies and people to say, Hey, you know what, I have this idea in mind, can we take one of your projects and try it out if it works, they're always in every team, someone that feels the pain more than others, or that it's more curious to try out things because they're fed up with how things have been running until that moment. So finding the ally and start running an experiment will help to assess how the problem can be solved. Will also create an internal advocate, which is extremely important because, in change management, nothing that starts from the top is well perceived down. So if I want to make sure everyone in the team is happy and excited only to have a couple of advocates within the team that will amplify my voice and speak the same language and translate what is my big idea? What is my strategy? What is my concept? Into, Hey, you know what? We will be saving two days worth of work because we cut this and this that's what matters, but that's the language that they will be using to expand. And this is how by one experiment to another, one trying out someone else wanting to join because they heard and then start the rollout, implementing. So Lean UX, you do MVP number one, you learn, you improve, you bring more people on board MVP number three, you have more people on board. And before you know, everyone is doing it and not because you ask them to, because they start seeing the value because Design Operations it's about showing, not telling. And that's my big motto and to stay with Lewin Model, that's the moment when you freeze and you say, okay, that's the process, this is what we're going to do. This is how we do things now, because Hey, it takes time. I mean, it's not something that you do overnight, but it's the concept of going slow to go fast, assess the problem, finalize, test, enlarge your test base, improve your testing and results, and then consolidate.
Luke: It's interesting, cause I think there's the whole, we need to go slow to go fast. Cause, by the way, I think that this is amazing. I think that the whole concept of what you're talking about is very similar to the product process and the UX process, right? we're talking about having pilot users or beta users and sort of seeing if it works and doing the experimentation and then rolling it out to a wider group of users. This is standard stuff, but like for product designers and UX designers just doesn't seem to be standard for a lot of people when they're doing organizational change.
Patrizia: But I think that, you know what, the path to DesignOps it's all confused. So there's not a clear path. So you will have people that may be coming from a very project management type of approach where they may be lacking that aspect of how you roll out design, how you do design, and how you test ideas. And that's on one side, but on the other side, it's also the idea that some people think that all you need to do to change things is to tell people to do things differently. And that's poor management. So some organizational studies would help and change management would be critical. But, I know it's not something that a lot of people are comfortable with or even interested in. As you said at the beginning, you don't really see the value, but the thing is you don't see the value until someone comes and say from tomorrow, this is how you do it. And you just say the first reaction is, why? And the next reaction is no. And then it follows with, I hate you, you're terrible, you don't understand me. Rather than saying, Hey, are you up for a challenge? Should we do something fun together? And then you roll out everything, so you have to go slow
Luke: Yeah, that makes sense. So I suppose the interesting thing around the whole going slow to go fast, that sounds like that's going to be problematic for some senior leaders, because their whole thing is around. It's speed and speed of delivery and everything needs to be delivered faster. And even though the end goal is going fast, as you said, it's slow to go fast. How do you convince them in the first place to actually invest that time and energy into, and so, I mean, I suppose hiring a DesignOps is usually a good sign and the fact they care about, but for people I suppose, who are trying to carve out this practice, I mean, you mentioned some of the measures and metrics that you talked about, has there been anything that has, it feels like a silver bullet.
Patrizia: Oh, it's exactly quantifying. I mean, my pushback is, I'm here to have an impact, to have an impact I need to map out where we are today and have confidence, all the issues, or at least have some directional metrics that will have me to come back to you in six months, twelve months and say, okay, my impact has been to increase the delivery time by 20%, reduce the number of rework hours by 30% reduce the spending by 60% and it's not difficult to do. But, otherwise, how are you going to be assessed and evaluated if you don't have metrics and I'm not good at saying I'm good, I'm great, or whatever I want to be able to quantify. So the pushback is always on what are you going to assess with? If I don't have an objective view, and it's also trying to find the fine balance between collecting data, analyzing data, and presenting back. So, there always should be and what I always try to do is to give the impression of progressing and the things are moving. So don't hide in a room and say, okay, for the next three months, leave me alone, I'm going through all the spending, all the POs, all the processes, doing surveys, doing interviews, et cetera. It's kind of keeping a constant dialogue so that it's evident that things are happening until there's a big share out. And I can tell you every time I start a new job and at the beginning, there's always, what are you doing and what is happening? And I'm assessing the situation. And then we get to either the assessment share out or to the quarterly review. I tend to have DesignOps quarterly reviews and saying, okay, this is it, this is the roadmap, this is what I've heard. Now you tell me if we are on the same page. And at that point is when people start saying, okay, in three months, because that's roughly three months is how long does it take for me to review all the spending, all the operations, all the design op mechs, operational mechanics on how they work, all the cross-functional engagement and have an overview of what are the opportunity areas. And three months or for a new joiner in accompany or someone starting in that role, it's not a massive amount of time given that you will have an impact and you won't have to redo that every month.
Luke: Yeah, well, exactly. Yeah, yeah. It's interesting. Because I think everything you said there makes sense, especially when you're talking to that senior leadership level and sort of your bosses and the people who sign the paychecks. On the other side, when you're trying to convince the design team who may not. Cause, I mean, there are a lot of design teams that don't sort of see the, you know, again, they're very focused on production, they don't really see the value in and try. They're like, why would we change this? We're doing okay kind of attitude seems to be quite common. Do you use a different set of metrics and a different set of approaches to convince them of the value so that you can get those internal advocates or I suppose, do you just identify those pilot people who are really passionate?
Patrizia: I tend to identify the pile of people, you won't have everyone on the same page. So I mean, I had cases where I had rejectors but then there were more advocates than rejectors. So suddenly they started changing the narrative from, well, we don't need it and well I can try it simply because there are people that are naturally change-resistant, people that stick to their way of working people that don't enjoy leaving their comfort zone. They have the processes, they have everything outlined for ages, or they're just used to working in a certain way. So for them, the trade-off needs to be a huge change and a big impact. So there are people that are more flexible and open to try things and people that really need to see, okay, actually, this is allowing me to finish work at 5:30, rather than 6. Yeah, that’s good enough.
Luke: That's usually a very good way to convince designers. it's interesting. So I suppose, do you find that there is also a large education piece in what you do as well. Like how much of your time do you tend to spend doing that internal education around these practices, the values? I mean, especially when you're putting a new thing in place.
Patrizia: There are two pieces of education that goes on and on first of all, who is Design Operations for a lot of people, it's a new role. So at all levels, it's about trying to position Design Operations and the role and the responsibility. But then education is something absolutely critical because if you want a team that works, it has to be a team that is smart and knows how to use things, and makes the most out of every tool and every opportunity. But again, it's not something that I decide, I ask, I listen. So again, double diamond, where we go and we start listening. We start prototyping, we test and iterate and then we play back and we keep listening. In every survey I do and in the values, one-to-ones I have, I always try to understand what are the big opportunities, you know, sometimes people want to learn more about accessibility. Sometimes it's more analytics, sometimes it's more leadership because we need to optimize the resources and the time it's about playing back, I've heard you saying that you would like training in this, this, and this. I can help you. So for instance, one of the things that I did was, I'm still doing, working on creating data-informed designers. So this is what I call the pi-shaped designers instead of the T-shaped designer. So designers that speak the same language as product managers. I don't know if you have ever heard about tensions between PMs and designers.
Luke: I've never heard of this before.
Patrizia: But in some cases, not all cases, but in some cases, this is literally caused by the fact that why designers tend to talk empathy all the way around and user persona and the journey and oh, oh my God, Tom our persona really love this part of the journey. And then suddenly you have the PM saying, no, we need to redesign the whole part of the journey that Tom really likes, and this is how design feels kind of, they're not listening to us, but the truth is I really believe that design thinking should evolve into a data-informed design thinking that combines the empathy element with the behavioral data we can get from analytics. So that's a big part of training that I'd been doing and in different settings, for now, it would be probably a couple of years, because it's important to make sure designers grow into that. But first of all, make sure designers understand the value of why it's important to utilize that. And this is why the training and the educational piece is never, ever about a tool. It's about a mindset. So it's about creating the skills to use the tools that the organization is, it is it's putting in the hands of the designers, but also giving them the mindset. To start thinking and understanding the value and the added value they can have if they start applying a different approach to design and integrating design with those data. But it has always been to kind of listen, playback, listen, playback until we are not aligned that you really want a design, a data analytics training, don't you.
Luke: Yeah. It's the softly softly approach to making sure that they're actually understanding. It's weird, cause, it's like, I feel like a lot of my early managers probably needed to understand this instead of just belligerently telling me what to do.
Patrizia: I'm sure that a lot of old school managers that think that your role is, and it's a good intention, it's just the execution that lacks that empathy element. You have to use design thinking, double diamonds, listen, empathy, empathize, and playback.
Luke: So if somebody wants to learn more around, cause it's interesting, you're talking about, is it Lewin model? I never know how to pronounce it
Patrizia: Uh, neither I. But if anyone knows better, let us know.
Luke: So I mean, this is obviously an entrenched traditional change management sort of framework, right, so if anybody wants to sort of learn more around that kind of traditional space of change management, have you found any good resources that you would recommend, anything to stay away from.
Patrizia: No, I would say start with the basics. So there are very complex and very complicated change management models. Personally, I use Lewin because it's simple. I mean, unfreeze, so create the urgency, experiment, and then consolidate freeze again. So it's simple enough to be applied to a lot of domains. You will have a lot of different models, what is good, what is bad? The truth is I read a lot. I read very fast and I forget the names of everything, but, you know, Kotler, the not the Kotler of classics are always good. There's nothing to stay away from because I always believe that models don't... If we understand that they don't work, it means that they help us to apply critical thinking and to understand why they are not fit for purpose. So my advice and also what I do, I read everything. And then I just pick what works, if I find that something doesn't work, I need to be able to explain myself why not.
Luke: Very sensible approach. So I suppose, getting towards the end of the podcast now, but before we ship you off to your island, let's first talk about some more DesignOps stuff, what's exciting you about the future of DesignOps at the moment, or what do you see is the most important thing we should be focusing on.
Patrizia: Well, you know, DesignOps is in a fantastic moment, it's extremely fluid, the whole pandemic in a way, also helped to raise the focus and the attention towards, maybe someone needs to take care of all these distributed teams, people, we’re living and working everywhere. And you know, the old model of we are in the office, I can have an eye on all of you, I know what you're doing, it's not working. So, the pandemic really helped, to kind of consolidate the idea that having someone that looks at the operations for our design team, it's important. And the biggest challenge for me at this moment. And I think what is the biggest challenge, it's not so much how it consolidates and the best practices, but it's an altitude issue, there are a lot of Design Operations practitioners that operate at very different altitudes. The way I see and where I hope DesignOps is headed is to be the equivalent of the COO for the CEO where we will have the Chief Design Officer. I made a joke with a friend, they called it the Chief Operation Designer Officer whatever, but that's the level of altitude because, operations is not tactical it's strategic before you need to have a strategy on how you implement efficiencies. What are the efficiencies that matter the most? What is the biggest business impact those efficiencies can have and how those business impact can be translated into benefits for the teams, because if I'm able to save $200,000 just by reviewing contracts, and this is true, I mean, it takes me generally less than three months to save between 100 and $200,000 just looking at the numbers. How can I take advantage of that to bring more resources or something else for the team? So, it's bringing together the business view and the strategic view and having Design Operations, not as something that executes a tactic. I mean, that’s perfect for design program managers, because someone needs to execute the operational strategy, but someone needs to think what are the right solutions? What are the problems? Because it's a design function, it's designing processes, it's assessing problems that are being experienced by the design team, by the cross-functional teams, or by both segments and both teams and try to make things happen. So, that's what excites me, I want to see Design Operations as a new C executive-level role, a strategic role, that close the bridge between business and design.
Luke: Ah, see. This is what's happened with design over the last 10 years, is that, you know, we went from being a service to the company that would just, it was all focused on output, to actually being an integral part of the business and an embedded part of the business that was, you know, at the top table. And it feels like at the moment, what you're talking about is spot on. Design Ops is currently in that service stage, where it is just a function that services the design team or services the product team and actually, yeah, you're right, it's like the only way that we're going to deliver true value is if, it's at that level where it is part of their strategic vision. Yeah, you've got me excited now.
Patrizia: Yeah, so, do you want to join the DesignOps revolution?
Luke: I think this is now we're starting our manifesto now. Right? It's the DesignOps manifesto. Well, I mean, you're going to have a lot of time to work on it because we’re about to ship you off to your desert island as well. So before we ship you off to your desert island to make your stay more comfortable, you get to take a few things with you. So one of those is a piece of music that you'd like to listen to. One of them is a piece of literature. And then, finally one luxury item. So Patrizia, let's start with the music.
Patrizia: Okay, that's easy. I'm a big fan of electro-swing because it's fun. It has a lot of good mood, it's energetic, it's a blend of past and present. So if I'm off to a desert island, I want to have fun
Luke: Do you have a specific artist that you'd take the discography of?
Patrizia: Camarero, Pavrov Stelar.
Luke: A bit of Pavrov Stelar on the island would be phenomenal.
Luke: And then something to read.
Patrizia: Ah, that was a difficult question because my very favorite book is very tiny, so it's less than 100 pages and it's Kapuscinski who was a Polish journalist in the seventies and eighties and wrote a tiny book called The Others. Now The Others is literally his discovery of his identity by looking at the people he met as a journalist across the globe. I mean, African everywhere. I mean, it's a fantastic story, the story of the journalist, but the book is extremely dense, but it's too tiny. So because I think that the best books have to be yet written and I would have a lot of time on the island, I'll bring an empty notebook and write it.
Luke: That is a great answer. I'm also surprised nobody's done that yet. And then finally you get to take a luxury item with you as well.
Patrizia:I don't like luxury items. So for me, the luxury of being able to smile, so I'm being relaxed, so probably I will bring my cat because you can never get bored with a cat.
Luke:That's very true. Also a very good hunting partner.
Patrizia:Exactly. You never know, a mouse can be a good prey
Luke:Oh, a hundred percent. Yeah, definitely. Definitely. All right. I think it sounds like you're set to go now.
Patrizia:Yeah. I have my music. I have my notebook and I have my cat, what else?