July 22, 2020

DesignOps at Intuit

Headshot photo of Patrizia Bertini


International DesignOps Lead


With Patrizia Bertini — International DesignOps Lead at Intuit.

In your own terms, at a high level, how do you define or think about “DesignOps”?

DesignOps is about creating value for designers, design directors, and the business by satisfying the needs of the design teams, supporting the design managers, and generating spending and operational efficiencies to support the overall business.

It’s literally a balancing act to ensure all needs and expectations are understood and the execution generates value for the business, the designers, and the directors.

Value in this case means something different to all the stakeholders:

  • For the design teams it means more time and the application of seamless processes and integrated tools, so that designers can work smarter, have a better life-work balance, and a happier working life.
  • For design directors it includes the ability to focus on the individual team members and the opportunity to ensure the roadmap and the strategic and tactical goals of their team are successfully achieved
  • For the business, it means reduced churn, increased spending efficiencies, and increased quality of the output that will have an impact on the customer experience and stakeholders.

What was the tipping point for you, where you realised this was something that was required and beneficial in your team/

My background is research, and I was used to manage teams in my previous roles.

I was working as researcher at Intuit at a certain point I have noticed that a few things were not quite right, so I did what I know the best: a detailed and through analysis of the current status of design and research within the organisation! I measured and quantified inefficiencies, identified the priorities and their root causes, defined a clear roadmap, and quantified the expected impact of each action with measurable KPIs.

For me this assessment process was just applied strategy and management. But when I presented my results and my recommendations, I have learnt that what I was doing was called DesignOps, and I was asked to step officially into that role, managing 7 globally distributed design teams in UK, Australia, France, Brazil. Canada, India, and Mexico.

Since then I have implemented a set of operational changes in the teams and in the ways we work, prioritising the biggest pains to equally support all teams to do the best work of their lives while supporting the design directors to achieve their goals and ensuring we spend both time and money in the most effective way with a recognisable positive ROI.

It’s awesome to work and see the impact of your decisions immediately: DesignOps is one of the few jobs where you can see the impact of your actions straightaway, and the feedback from the teams were incredibly helpful to implement the changes seamlessly!

DesignOps is a lot about change management, and by adopting a participative approach to change management there’s a lot of excitement and collaboration among teams, which is hugely energising for all!

I love my job (and my teams!).

What do the tooling and flow/process look like for your design team (and development team - if applicable)?

Customer obsession is what distinguishes Intuit’s design teams’ approach: every decision and every process starts and ends with the user.

I created and integrated research flows and implemented tools that support time effective and frequent interaction with users and customers within the whole ideation, development, and delivery phase.

By mapping out the E2E workflow, it was easy to identify opportunities and integration.

Rapid testing, experimentation, and a strong bias towards action driven design thinking is what makes us unique, together with x-functional ability to collaborate and integrate skills and knowledge.

How does DesignOps affect the efficiency/effectiveness of your day-to-day operations in the team as a whole, and more

In order to fully implement our Customer obsession, design teams are expected to constantly engage with customers through an insight driven approach. The majority of my changes focused on Making research happen effortlessly and on increasing teams’ ability to focus on their craft rather than doing mundane tasks. I measured how teams were spending their time to reduce low added value work, automatising tasks when possible, and creating new flows to ensure everyone could focus on what they do best. As an example, our designers were spending way too much time managing research participants: that was not what a designer should be wasting time on. Analysing the problem, quantifying the inefficiencies, and the development of a solid business case helped solving this problem and within 12 months across the 7 teams, we have gained 430 working days - and the plan is to double this number next year! What else have I done?

  • Harmonised the E2E design processes across all 7 regions
  • Redesigned the overall tool’s ecosystem to support testing and validation processes
  • Introduced ways and processes to drive customer obsession in a systematic way
  • Simplified the processes to recruit research participants to increase customer backed decision
  • Introduced a system to ensure x-geo and x-functional visibility and knowledge sharing
  • 12 months later the results were way beyond the expectation:

  • Teams engaged with 4x users compared to previous year

  • +72% in the number of experiments and users testing sessions, nearly three times as planned (was 25%)

  • Lead time reduced by 65% (twice as much as planned, 30%)

  • Reduced spending by 60%

It has been exciting to see the impact I could drive and I am already working on next years’ roadmap!

What advice would you give to designers wanting to make a career pathway in DesignOps?

I consider designOps a strategic function that implements measurable tactical actions to deliver value across the business. And I see an incredible potential in designOps if it is implemented at the right altitude. To give designOps the strategic role it deserves to maximise impact, we need to ensure DesignOps operates at the right altitude and designOps professionals have a blend of tactical and strategic skills: in DesignOps professionals need to be able to equally spread design ad business, KPIs and blueprints, dollars and pixels.

In my experience, to be able to elevate and keep DesignOps as a strategic function, the skills and expertise I have found to be particularly helpful are:

  1. Empathy for designers
  2. Influencing skills to manage stakeholders
  3. Business acumen to identify priorities and quantify impact
  4. An understanding of service design
  5. Data and insight driven approach

So my advice would be to start and be a designer at heart: spend some time as a designer yourself to learn the processes and ways of working and the mindset and then move into business strategy and develop your leadership skills.

It will all come together seamlessly - because DesignOps it’s a journey and it’s an exciting one!

What resources or influences have had the most impact on the way you approach your day to day operations in the DesignOps space? (This could be other companies, books, podcasts, articles, talks etc).

The biggest impact on my approach to DesignOps has been my experiences in agencies and consultancies. I strongly believe DesignOps is a function for in-house teams as designOps is a collective effort to drive change with and within the teams. And change is a long term effort.

For this reason, experience in agencies, where business talks is constantly blended with strategy and design is a great opportunity to work on these three areas.

Agency experience truly helps because it naturally exposes designers to the strategic, business, and influencing aspects of DesignOps and I believe I have been mostly influenced by a few role models I had the pleasure to work with and whom showed empathy, business acumen, and influencing skills in action.

So, the other advice is to find the right people you ant to learn from: know what are the things you want to learn and identify who can share their experience with you. Find a mentor - both within your company or outside, and learn from them. Learn from man. Question your learnings, and find your leadership ad DesignOps style.