There’s a tricky balance when managing and leading creative teams. There must be order; robust and thorough Design Operations (DesignOps) ensure creatives complete projects and tasks on time. On the other hand, leaders must allow enough flexibility to let creatives do what they do best — be creative and produce outstanding work. 

In this article, we’ll discuss how you can achieve that balance and build out your Design Operations with the help of powerful work management solutions. We’ll also hear from our very own Valentin Ladyagin, Wrike’s Design Operations Manager, on how he achieved this equilibrium within the design team at Wrike. 

Why you need to invest in Design Operations

Any creative team will have a love of design, ideation, and creativity at its core. While this is what you want from any team producing assets and materials for your brand, it’s no surprise that creatives often suffer from a lack of thorough processes and production flows. 

DesignOps is the formalization of processes and workflows within creative teams. Design Operations can be one person or an entire team whose goal is to plan, define, and manage the end-to-end creative process for an organization. The goal is to increase production, harmonize processes, and ensure that creatives have the time to focus on design as opposed to time-consuming administrative tasks. 

“I started in Wrike as a graphic designer, but within one year, I noticed that I loved improving processes for our team and helping people through busy and complex projects,” says Valentin. “Then I discovered the DesignOps profession. They help forecast work, manage resources, drive the day-to-day project flows, support team health, and facilitate anything that allows creative teams to focus on what they do best. 

But our team didn’t have specialists in that area. I went to my manager and suggested transferring to the DesignOps position and helping build a more effective team.”

Design Operations: Where should you begin?

Firstly, it’s essential to consider the value of adding a DesignOps manager or team to your existing design department. Your new Design Operations team could be a new hire or a current team member, but this person must be focused on the design process. 

Secondly, DesignOps must have collaboration and work management tools to actively build new workflows and processes that serve the entire team. These solutions must have project management features and tools that do not slow down the production process for creatives. 

Let’s look at how Valentin perfected the DesignOps creative workflow management in Wrike. 

Streamline work intake 

Any designer knows the feeling of being pulled in several directions at once. The DesignOps process should take the stress out of prioritizing and allocating projects. Using features like Wrike’s dynamic request forms, DesignOps managers can curate relevant work intake forms that take requested work, automatically assign it to the correct person, and add tasks straight into the designer’s existing workflows. 

“We centralized and standardized creative briefs using dynamic request forms that reconfigure based on input. This helps our team gather all the necessary information without overwhelming the requester,” says Valentin.

“We automated the creation of new projects or tasks from requests and can route the requests to the right team or assignee. Our team can get started immediately with the right people notified and equipped with all the essential project details.”

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Embrace automation 

Automation is essential for exceptional DesignOps. These features in your work management tool minimize manual and administrative tasks for your designers so they can focus on creativity. From automatically assigning the right person to the right work to moving through creative workflows intuitively based on work completed, automation is essential to mastering the DesignOps function. 

“We have three groups of automation scripts: guide, reminder, and sorters. Each group is responsible for its part in the production flow. Overall, these scripts help designers avoid manual work, contact stakeholders, and give progress updates.”

See everything in one place 

For DesignOps to run smoothly, every team member, from managers to designers, should be able to instantly see what’s being worked on and by whom. This holistic approach allows the team to work as one while understanding upcoming projects and tasks. 

How can this be done? Powerful work management platforms should have numerous dashboard and view options so that DesignOps can create a team view that works for everyone. 

“For the manager, it's essential to see the team's capacity and allocate tasks to the right people. For the designer, it's important to focus on the right task today and avoid unnecessary information,” says Valentin. 

“That's why designers have personal dashboards with only their tasks, and managers have a dashboard with main team overview widgets. We're so happy that this feature allows us to create customizable widgets.”

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Simple reporting 

Exceptional Design Operations should incorporate reporting into the creative workflow, making it an integral part of the design process but not labor-intensive for designers. 

“At the end of every week, each designer fills in a report to show the progress of the top three most important tasks of the week. It helps us all to see the work progress, and it increases cross-team collaboration and visibility because everyone sees what other teams are doing.”

This sounds like it could add more work to a designer’s plate, but simple tools in your work management tool can alleviate this. 

“We use Wrike Blueprints for reports and create tasks with reporting for the month ahead. Also, we configured another automation script, so designers receive a notification every Friday in their Wrike inbox with a link to the report and a reminder to fill in their sections.”

Mastering DesignOps with work management

Whether you’re starting small with DesignOps or enlisting a large team to put frameworks in place, the essential thing to bear in mind is not to stifle the creative process by adding more cumbersome creative workflows and processes. 

Well-crafted DesignOps should feel like less work, not more, and leave designers with enough freedom to work their way within the larger team. 

“I believe that well-established and attuned processes lead to a happy and healthy team that, in turn, has more time and resources for creativity.”

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