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Mapping Design Operations

Today, companies in every industry seek to better their design capabilities: from products to services to experiences. Fueling the growing design function in large organizations is a new discipline called Design Ops, charged with scaling design and design thinking up, down, and across the organization.

Does your organization have a Design Ops function? If not, let’s design it!

Object of Play
Build shared understanding of how Design Ops operates within the larger organizational context. If a current Design Ops function exists, to visually map it. If it does not yet exist, to design it.

Number of Players
1-6 (depending on the objective).

As an individual, use the Design Ops canvas to quickly sketch out and think through a Design Ops organizational model or an interesting model portrayed in the press.

To map an organization’s existing and/or future model you should work in groups. Include partner organizations (e.g. project management) and stakeholders (e.g. clients). The more diverse the group of players, the more accurate the picture of the Design Ops function will be.

Duration of Play
Anywhere between 15 minutes for individual play (napkin sketch of a Design Ops model), half a day (to map an organization’s current Design Ops model), and up to two days (to develop a future Design Ops model, including vision, mission and metrics).

Material Required
Mapping works best when players work on a poster on the wall. To run a good session you will need:

  • A very large print of a Business Canvas Poster. Ideally A0 format (1000mm × 1414mm or 39.4in × 55.7in)
    • Alternatively, recreate the canvas on a large whiteboard.
  • Tons of sticky notes (i.e. post-it® notes) of different colors
  • Flip chart markers
  • Camera to capture results
  • The facilitator of the game might want to read an outline of the Design Operations Canvas

How to Play
There are several games and variations you can play with the Design Ops Canvas Poster. Here we describe the most basic game, which is the mapping of an organization’s existing Design Ops org (steps 1-3), it’s assessment (step 4), and the formulation of improved or potential new org designs (step 5). The game can easily be adapted to the objectives of the players.

  1. Start with the Stakeholders in the Who are we? circle. Use different color sticky notes on the Canvas Poster for each type of stakeholder (e.g. external vendors, internal support functions, clients). Complete this section.
  2. Subsequently, move to the What do we do? section and map out the value propositions your organization offers each stakeholder. Players should use the same color sticky notes for value propositions and stakeholder segments that go together. If a value proposition targets two very different stakeholder segments, the sticky note colors of both segments should be used.
  3. Map out all the remaining building blocks of your organization’s Design Ops model with sticky notes. Try to use the colors of the related stakeholder segment. Recommendation: once you complete the Stakeholders section, work around the canvas clockwise, beginning with the upper left section; leave the What Constrains Us? section last.
  4. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your Design Ops model by putting up green (strength) and red (weakness) sticky notes alongside the strong and weak elements of the mapped model. Alternatively, sticky notes marked with a “+” and “-” can be used rather than colors.
  5. Try to improve the existing model or generate totally new models. You can use one or several additional Design Ops Model Posters to map out improved org models or new alternatives.

Strategy
This powerful game opens up channels of dialogue about a new, lesser-known but vitally important design function. Use this game as an opportunity to not only create a thoughtfully designed and productive organization, but to introduce and educate the rest of the company about what design can do and how to plug in. Players not familiar with design may stay silent at first, but their participation will increase understanding and alignment, benefits with payoff into the future. Keep them engaged. Beyond including outside stakeholders in the game, use a completed Design Ops canvas as a conversation starter in evangelizing Design’s value to your company.

Variation

  • map out the Design Ops org of industry competitors or an aspirational company

Complementary Games

  • The Empathy Map will help you to more deeply understand your stakeholders; play this game before Mapping your Design Ops org.
  • The Business Model Canvas will provide a more technical (managerial?) understanding of how your Design Ops org functions; complete the Business Model canvas after mapping your Design Ops org. In the event you are looking to improve upon your current state, the Business Model Canvas will prove especially useful.
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