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Agile Organisation.

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Welcome back to our Design at Scale™—Academy series, focusing on design practice in a team of one hundred. This article delves into the intricacies of integrated design teams within agile organisations.  While "HR organisation" has become a standalone concept, it's often mistakenly associated solely with development and engineering teams.  In reality, HR represents a broader approach and philosophy that guides a business's overall direction.

I agree the topic of integrated design teams in agile organisations is vast and deserves a deeper exploration. However, this article can offer a springboard for understanding the current landscape and potential areas for growth. Here's a revised introduction that reflects this focus:

Building a Truly Agile Organization: The Power of Design Integration

Many organisations strive for agility – adapting and responding quickly to changing market demands. While development and engineering teams often take centre stage in agility discussions, design plays a crucial role. This article offers a high-level overview of how integrating design into your organisation's core can fuel sustainable growth and scalability on the path towards true agility.

Transparency 

Transparency: The Cornerstone of Agility

The very foundation of agility is transparency. This principle encourages open information sharing across all departments. Teams freely create and share information with the guiding principle of helping each other achieve goals and deliver tasks faster. Transparency goes beyond mere communication; it fosters a collaborative environment.

Design as a Catalyst for Change

Within an agile organisation, a well-integrated design team can be a powerful driver of transformation. With strong administrative support and recognition as a valuable partner by other functions, the design team can achieve significant progress within a short timeframe (less than a year).

This recognition facilitates a smoother distribution of design artefacts – the deliverables created by the design team. These artefacts can expedite the work of other departments by 10-15%, even without considering the additional benefits of a design system.

Design Systems: Empowering Autonomy

A well-established and effectively communicated design system empowers other teams within the organisation. The system provides a shared visual language and a set of reusable components, allowing other teams to operate more autonomously, understanding and adhering to the established design principles.

Autonomy

The dream of a unified visual language under one governing design team is undeniably appealing. However, a standardised system can feel restrictive for peripheral teams delivering essential products and services.  The key lies in striking a balance: a system robust enough to support diverse functionalities yet flexible sufficient to accommodate peripheral team needs.

Providing a design system with graphic styles, colours, and spacing isn't sufficient to enhance product team efficiency.  In the context of agile organisations, central design teams need to be more than isolated entities dictating the user experience.

Adaptability

Peripheral Team Adaptability and Contribution

The adaptability of peripheral teams is a significant strength within this structure. However, it comes with a necessary trade-off. Peripheral teams have a crucial responsibility: to report and document all proposed changes to the design system. This enables the central design system team to consider and integrate these changes into future releases. This collaborative approach ensures both parties benefit from a standardised design system while fostering the organisation's intellectual property. This system reduces risk and streamlines development efforts by promoting reusability and correctly implementing design components across the organisation.

True Agility: Collaboration over Blame

The essence of true agility lies not in assigning blame but in fostering a supportive, collaborative environment.  Imagine the central and peripheral teams as members of the same family, working together towards a common goal.

Once the scope of a product or service is defined, peripheral teams conduct a "gap analysis" to identify any missing elements within their design repository.  These gaps are then reported to the central team.  Through open communication, both teams work together to determine which team will lead in designing the missing components.  Once created, these components are shared, allowing for swift decision-making on their implementation and overall user experience.

Resilience

Building Resilience Through Collaboration

Change is inevitable and often unpredictable in business. To navigate this ever-evolving landscape, both central and peripheral design teams must embrace a collaborative approach. Working together, they can create a unified design system that encompasses language, behaviours, methods, and knowledge. This shared system, effectively communicated across the entire organisation, fosters a foundation for agility and resilience.

Shared Knowledge Combats Power Struggles

Without a collaborative effort, organisations can fall into a cycle of internal struggles. Disagreements about roles and responsibilities can hinder progress. A well-established design system, supported by a strong knowledge base, can help mitigate these power struggles. By providing a clear framework and shared understanding, the design system empowers central and peripheral teams to focus on user needs while maintaining the core principles of the design language.

Resilience in the Face of Change

As product teams adapt to user needs and behaviours, the design system demonstrates its actual value: resilience.  The knowledge base embedded within the system,  including the design language and methodologies, acts as a safeguard.  It ensures that changes made at the product level address user needs without compromising the core principles of the overall design language.

Robustness

The Value of Design: Beyond Artifacts

Designers play a crucial role within an organisation, extending far beyond creating artefacts for engineering teams.  Effective design can profoundly impact how an organisation presents, interacts with users, and adapts to future developments.

Building a Robust Design Knowledge Base

By establishing a comprehensive design knowledge base fully integrated within the business, designers create a critical reference point for the entire organisation.  This robust resource empowers central and peripheral designers to advocate for a unified vision – "one truth" – that encompasses user needs, defined colour palettes, font sizes, spacing considerations, and even colour themes for international markets.  This unified approach ensures accessibility and inclusivity across all products and services.

Scale

Scaling Design Impact in an Agile Organization

The final frontier in an agile organisation isn't necessarily scaling teams or buttons; it's about scaling the design's overall impact on the organisation.  This stage focuses on establishing mechanisms to maintain the organisation's visual identity and brand status.

The Power of Automation

This is where a well-defined design system shines. By integrating well-defined components, elements, and atoms and heavily leveraging automation, the organisation achieves a level of efficiency where design updates can be implemented seamlessly throughout the product development lifecycle.

Benefits of Scalability

A scalable design system offers significant advantages:

  • Market Flexibility: The organisation can allocate resources to different markets without duplicating design efforts for specific products. Existing design components can be utilised and adapted for various market needs.
  • Streamlined Workflows: A fully automated design system allows for:
    • Direct colour palette changes through code
    • Creation of new pages based on existing patterns
    • Development of new user flows by adjusting existing libraries to meet specific market requirements

This automation minimises repetitive tasks and frees design resources for more strategic initiatives.

Why is it important?

Many design teams fall into the trap of prioritising design system creation over implementation and impact.  While hundreds of hours might be invested in crafting a seemingly perfect system, it fails to deliver value if it doesn't address the organisation's specific needs.

This article series aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice.  We'll explore how to design systems that can be effectively integrated within any organisation, maximising their impact.  The focus will be on advocating for design systems as theoretical tools and robust solutions that translate present-day business needs into tangible design outcomes.

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