Designing a Design-Driven Organization

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In the current technology ecosystem, many organizations have assumed that agility and innovation can only be achieved at the expense of design, security, and reliable operations. Many startups take this path. But as the startup begins to scale, there are often bumps in the road. Perhaps a company grew its solution organically with limited big-picture design or documentation; or maybe the customer experience begins to falter when customers demand reliability but the solution cannot deliver as changes get implemented too quickly.

Or perhaps customers start to demand a level of security that cannot be delivered with the current solution architecture. The solution stays niche-focused and doesn't fit the larger market segment. This is often where the company growth plateaus and innovation stalls. The scale-up companies that realize this challenge early can adjust and become design-driven organizations like Apple, Airbnb, Coca Cola, and Google.

Organizations that are successful with implementing change and incremental improvements tend to make changes more frequently, and rise to the top of their sector. Those that are not successful with change drop to the bottom of their sector.

"The most innovative companies in the world share one thing in common. They use design as an integrative resource to innovate more efficiently and successfully."
-- DMI Design Value Index

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What can be realized by looking at design-driven organizations is that no matter the size, leading with design enhances agility and innovation and allows them to make changes more quickly, be more secure, and deliver an enhanced customer experience.

This may sound counter intuitive to Agile DevOps frameworks, but it's clear: Design-driven organizations are more successful. Design-driven companies have outperformed the S&P by over 200% over the last 10 years, according to multiple studies.

Once past the initial startup scale with key or a small number of customers, design-driven organizations can innovate with many frequent incremental points of improvement that eventually lead to breakthrough differences from their competitors.

According to a study performed by Forrester Research Consulting, design-led companies reported:

  • 41% higher market share
  • 46% had a competitive advantage overall
  • 50% more loyal customers
  • 70% digital experiences beat competitors

Most technology based design-driven organizations use Agile DevOps frameworks but integrate some key differences to their solution design approaches:

  1. They focus on understanding their customers -- what they want and why the want it -- whether the customer is inside or outside the organization. They collect data to support the design.
  2. The organization culture, from the top down, relies on good communications and documentation that can be used for good collaboration. Management fully supports a design-driven approach to all initiatives.
  3. They consider design, strategy, and technology when developing any solution. The various disciplines are engaged and documentation is used to share knowledge and collaborate on the design. (McKinsey's Braided Design Model).

What this is telling us is that a multi-disciplinary approach to developing solutions provides better:

  • Customer Experiences
  • Security
  • Innovation
  • Efficiency
  • Operations
  • Products or Services

The most interesting thing is that design-driven organizations tend to deliver successful projects faster as well as better. Good design leads to less re-work or do-overs and faster builds and deployments. Better and faster reduces risks to the organization.

"When your company has a design-driven culture, you'll see business processes that are specifically organized for your company, your product and, ultimately, your customers -- all with the aim of getting the job done."
-- Bruno Guicardi, for Forbes

Getting the job done and with a higher quality is not simple; it requires the right skills and culture in the organization and project team.

"Utilizing top design talent to translate insights and new strategies into tangible solutions in hardware, software and service interactions helps companies grow faster through differentiation and better customer experiences."
-- DMI Design Value Index

The team needs to be able to share information across disciplines. They need to collaborate using tools that do not require more emails and meetings but rather sharing information using documents and diagrams. Teams need to clearly and concisely share market, vision, and strategy knowledge; customer input from iterative prototypes/minimum viable products; innovation ideas; and governance requirements.

Some common document types in design-driven organizations include:

  • Personas
  • Journey maps
  • Business cases
  • Metrics and KPIs
  • Process documentation
  • Architecture maps
  • Data structure diagrams
  • System diagrams
  • Security designs
  • Application flows
  • Projects plans
  • Priorities
  • Task status reports

Design-driven organizations are not isolated to a particular sized company; they can include startups, scale-ups, SMBs, and enterprise companies -- any organization that wants to grow and deliver a great customer experience. How you approach design thinking depends on your organization's culture and scale. Organizations that use cross-disciplinary teams, lead with customer-focused design, and share knowledge effectively will rise quickly to the top of their sector.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.

[Editor's Note: Eric Sundin, founder and president at Data Perceptions Inc., contributed to the writing of this article.]