The tech squall is here: Design Ops can batten down the hatches

Candace Myers
3 min readAug 10, 2022

A sudden and vicious storm has taken over your ship. Once predictable waters are now tossing your ship left and right. The team is overwhelmed by uncertainty and churn, and the captain is doing her best to navigate a course out of the storm. So, how do you survive the moment within the storm, and ensure the safety of the people and resources on the ship?

Ok, my metaphor is tortured but you get it. Tech has had one of its most uncertain years since the dotcom bust of the early 2000’s. People are generally overwhelmed by our world-wide-dumpster-fire, and I don’t know of any companies who are not being asked to “do more with less” or to “do fewer things better.”

It’s not unreasonable to ask teams to put the cash-cow in the barn, but in the middle of layoffs, restructuring and the political maneuvering and self doubt that can come with it, how do you keep your team productive, and focused on the work?

Maybe you don’t. Maybe you cry uncle, and say that we’re going to slow down our work while the storm passes. If that’s an option for you, your organization sounds amazing, and please come @ me! If that’s not an option for you, keep reading.

Design ops, and operational functions in general are one of your best levers in times of churn, when your IC’s are so distracted by uncertainty, doing their work seems impossible, joyless and possibly futile.

Here are a few ways to leverage Design Ops to move forward:

  1. Run a “name it to tame it” workshop:
  • Ok, I know this sounds a little bit hokey, but trust me, they’re amazing. If we can identify the factors that influence our work (our ability to get work done) that are out of our hands, and the factors that influence our work that are in our control, we can begin to find our “anchors.” We can only move forward on what is in our control, and we have to let go of what is outside of our control. Not only is this a “feel good” exercise, but it’s also super tactical. Everyone leaves with a purpose that they feel grounded in.

2. Define & employ a paved path for what has to move forward: The unknown and uncertainty on the “who, when, how” is a bane to every team, even in time of relative peace & stability. If you’re trying to get things done in a squall, leave nothing to chance. Work with your design ops on a documented source of truth for:

  • How we work: What meetings are happening and when, the purpose of the meeting and who is in the meeting. You should have cross functional meetings for critique, status, decision making & exec reviews (at least). Define async collaboration as well, if that’s your jam (e.g. slack, loom). This way, no one is ever left wondering how to collaborate, or when something is happening, or how to get something done.
  • Escalation path: If your team is in an extended cycle of churn or there is a critical decision that has to be escalated, never leave this to chance in the moment. Define it ahead of time. Give your leader a heads up on it, and ask for their feedback on how & when to deploy escalations, then you’re free!!!
  • Communication Channel: Create a channel for all things “project x” and keep a tight cadence on communicating: decisions that were made, next steps or action items, milestones hit or missed, blockers & open questions. This is such a pressure valve release to leaders, you don’t even know!
  • Transparency: For extra-credit, (& if its not super top secret) keep it all in one place such as a CODA doc and publish it to the entire company. This will also be handy dandy onboarding dossier for anyone joining the project mid-stream.

Don’t be afraid to lean on your design ops human for help righting the ship when it’s “haze gray and underway” (you guys I got that from a legit sailor forum!). We exist to solve for the work of the humans so that they can do the work of furthering the mission of the company and the ambition of the product.

*super groovy pic courtesy if Midjourney.AI

*all hail the typo queen 👑

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Candace Myers

Pinterest, Facebook, & Netflix design & creative operations. Never backed down from a work challenge, & I’ve failed a lot. Rich in insights, typos & tattoos.