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The Easy Design Org. Maturity Model

Last year, I gave myself the challenge to come up with a growth plan for our design team after some executive presentations on organization and service maturity. At that time we did not have any formal design leadership in the organization and our Design Director had recently resigned to move on to another opportunity. So, I took this upon myself and volunteered to develop an easy design maturity model. The goal was simply to define some key areas that are key to any design organization’s growth and develop 5 level definitions from least to most mature. We wanted to use this model to assess ourselves and define some ambitions with quarterly targets that we should be achieving.

Areas of Improvement

From our own experience and some research, we came up with a list of areas of improvement where we wanted to mature our practices. The list came out to look something like this for us: Role of Design, Structure & Mandate, Hiring and Onboarding, Process, and Collaboration, Standard Toolset for Design and Research, Training / Education, User Research, Tracking KPIs and Behaviours, Team Charter, Team Activities, Design Systems, Budgeting and Planning, and finally Cross-Discipline Collaboration.

The 5 levels of maturity

For each area, we defined 5 levels of maturity and a definition of what that would look like for us. Base level 1 is defined as having no formal structure in that area and no accountability. As you keep moving up the maturity ladder the role evolves and we start adding more structure, accountability, the impact on business, and strategic involvement of design in the growth of the organization

The Design Org. Maturity Model itself

Role of Design

Level 1: Individual designers are tasked to deliver UI artifacts. No formal support for growth. Seen as a tool by executives to deliver interfaces.

Level 2: The design team is seen as a tool to build better experiences instead of just interfaces.

Level 3: Design is a scalable function within the organization that supports other functions as well. The design itself is measured through business.

Level 4: Design plays an active role in impacting business decisions and leads the business forward.

Level 5: Design plays a part in business strategy along with its leading role. Appropriate resources are allocated to ensure design succeeds in the org. Design is empowered to be exploratory in identifying and pursuing unplanned ideas. Design-centric behavior is incentivized by executive management.

Structure & Mandate

Level 1: Individual designers exist throughout the organization. No formalized team exists.

Level 2: The design team starts to take shape but no formal structure or reporting lines are in place.

Level 3: Junior, Senior, and Lead roles start to appear in the design team. A culture of shared values emerges as designers start leading others.

Level 4: Formalized design teams exist with leads and managers, looking after the design team. The team has shared design principles/standards that everyone aspires towards.

Level 5: Design has a seat at the table, occupying a leadership position in the org. A well-defined charter including mission, vision, values, and principles exists within the team that everyone follows and aspires towards.

Hiring and Onboarding

Level 1: No documented or formal way of hiring or onboarding exists.

Level 2: Hiring and onboarding practices as done throughout the organization are applied to the design org. as well.

Level 3: Designers are hiring other designers. Every hiring designer has their process but they do generally follow similar practices.

Level 4: Design has its hiring process to hire high-quality designers with an undocumented onboarding process.

Level 5: A fully documented hiring process and set of practices exist to ensure high-quality hires. The onboarding process is also fully documented for a seamless designer onboarding experience. The current team actively recommends great designers to join the team.

Process and Collaboration

Level 1: Design is seen as a pandora's box. Stakeholders have zero visibility of the design process.

Level 2: Stakeholders start to recognize design as a body in the organization that they share their design requirements to get UI artifacts.

Level 3: Some informal but regular activities happen between design and stakeholders, mostly around understanding the business request and presenting designs.

Level 4: There is more rigor around activities. Brainstorming workshops and improved design-dev collaboration come into place.

Level 5: Formalised engagement practices with stakeholders exist. Stakeholders are well-knit into the design process. and understand the value of design activities

Training / Education

Level 1: Only designers are aware of the design processes and have taken design-oriented training.

Level 2: There is a pattern of constant upskilling and learning among designers. The learning is not yet planned or organized.

Level 3: In some cases, the designers do design thinking or ideation workshops across the org. for other departments where they learn about design practices and ways of working.

Level 4: The value of design activities is seen throughout the organization. Non-Design departments are keen on using design tools and methodologies to build more human products and processes.

Level 5: Design-Oriented pieces of training are standard across the organization. Everyone takes them to improve their ways of working. Design-centric behavior is incentivized by executive management. Design participates in and attends global conferences to expand knowledge.

User Research

Level 1: No or very little User Research practice exists.

Level 2: Informal and irregular user research practices exist. Designs are tested with users in some form or another.

Level 3: User research happens through customer interviews and surveys.

Level 4: Dedicated resources and structures for User Research emerge. Processes are documented and Research practices are evangelized throughout the organization.

Level 5: Formal research practices for guerilla research, co-creation with end users, surveys, user interviewing, and usability testing exist. The organization as a whole understands the value of research and taking feedback is a mandatory step in delivering anything inside or outside the organization.

Tracking KPIs and Behaviours

Level 1: No tracking whatsoever, Behaviours, and decisions are driven by individual gut feeling.

Level 2: The team starts gauging productivity by different measures like Time spent completing routine tasks, etc.

Level 3: Within the design org exclusively, some benchmarking a definition of good/best emerges and the team aligns KPIs to achieve that.

Level 4: More ways of measuring design emerge and there is more rigor in measuring and improving.

Level 5: Various modes of tracking activities and KPIs in a place like speed, efficiency, # of experiments, user exposure time, etc. The design team KPIs are cascaded from business KPIs.

Team Activities

Level 1: Not organized or tracked. Everyone works on their own.

Level 2: Activities start to emerge but are mostly personality-driven as opposed to being process/quality driven.

Level 3: Some regular design activities appear like standups and critiques to improve stakeholder collaboration and improving team output.

Level 4: More mature activities inside the design org. start taking place. There is an understanding throughout the organization of how design works and creates an impact. Design activities are practiced outside of design.

Level 5: Regular rituals and activities in place to keep the team functioning at the highest level and to keep them motivated together. These activities also have KPIs attached, that are tracked.

Design Systems

Level 1: No central design system or documentation around components exists.

Level 2: The design system hasn’t taken any shape but there are some commonly used assets defined in design files and code.

Level 3: The designed components are now implemented in the code as well. The Design System is still a guideline that can be used to build an open interface than building blocks.

Level 4: The design system follows governance procedures before updating pattern libraries and components. The design system is fully documented, which streamlines onboarding and reduces errors.

Level 5: With a fully integrated design system, designers and engineers work with a single source of truth. There’s no design drift and virtually no coding required to build new digital products.

Budgeting and Planning

Level 1: No planning for headcount or budget within the design. Designers are hired and let go individually.

Level 2: Planning happens on an ad-hoc basis. There is a loose idea of how designers will be utilized.

Level 3: There is still no budget discussion or allocation for design but the management understands the growth needs and starts investing in hiring and training needs of designers.

Level 4: Formal planning and budgeting start to happen. Design is an island that operates independently from other functions of the organization.

Level 5: Forecasting with annual planning happens within the design team for headcount. budget, etc. The forecasting is aligned with forecasts from product and sales growth. No designers are left without work or allocation for at least the next six months.

More Reads and Resources:

Here are some interesting reads that I went through and learned a lot from:

The Designer’s Growth Model

The New Design Frontier by InVision

The Design Maturity Model And The Five Disciplines Of The Learning Organization

SDN | 3 Design Maturity Models — What is the Level of Design Maturity in Your Organization?

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