DesignOps Within a Distributed Multi-Departmental Team

Of 50+ International Teammates

2019-10-01

Category: Product & Design

Note: To protect Covered By Sage, Inc., all information specific to their business model and product strategy have been omitted from this article.

As Head of Design at Sage, my goal of setting a new standard of design in insurance can be broken down to the following points:

  • Allow no aspect of the experiences that Sage delivers to fall outside of our deliberate design
  • Establish universally-applied design principles throughout Sage’s products and operations
  • Build a hyper-efficient design team that makes meaningful contributions to every department of the company
  • Lead design with a healthy mix of professional autonomy and central coordination

Why Design Matters

Design as a Primary Component of Growth

Thinking of design in light of growth forces us to see design in the breadth of scope it truly is – it is a mode of problem solving and encompasses every part of every individual’s experience with the Sage brand, not just our pixels.

Design has taken lead in importance for growth and marketing has turned into a vital part of the experience – more as a component of user-centered experience design. Strategic focus on design reliably results in increased virality and with today’s network effects there is basically no cap to success. Adoption rates of the best designs has grown and will continue to grow exponentially. The Business Value of Design by McKinsey is a must-read for anyone who wants to debate or learn more about this. ‘Commitment to design’ has become a legitimately good investment strategy, which is why McKinsey has made an organizational focus on design and maintains a design quality index of companies.

The company that understands this will break down departmental silos and permeate design teammates throughout.

Everyone Has a Role in This

Design is too important to be left just to designers. The key to effective design iterations (or growth hacking) is assembling a diversely skilled team of experts and committing to conducting several experiments at a cadence that can be sustained long-term. Our continued growth hacking will make us ever more successful at:

  • Recruiting more Sage agents
  • Streamlining Sage agents’ work
  • Motivating agents to not become complacent with their success
  • Establishing a strong emotional connection with our Sage agents and insureds
  • Getting our agents and insureds to talk about us to others
  • (Additional points omitted)

Design at Sage

Sage is building a system with many players and interactions spanning software and physical world experiences. Within product alone, it is a cross-module, cross-product, cross-device UX strategy. The cumulative total of all interactions people have with Sage encompasses Sage Design.

What Areas of Design are Incorporated at Sage

Design at Sage either currently encompasses or will soon encompass user research and design research, service design thinking, user experience design, user interface design, graphic design, animation/ illustration, and gamification. Watch this video on Service Design to get a primer on what it is and how it is relevant to Sage.

Design Leadership

The role of Sage’s Head of Design is to orchestrate optimal outcomes for all touch points between people and products within its system. In reality, the experiences will need to be delivered by operational and product teammates, but someone must focus on orchestrating optimal outcomes for all touch points in order to set up those who are implementing them for greatest success.

Design Team Configuration

The design team has a hub and spoke formation. Most designers are primarily lead by product managers or a Head of another department and secondarily lead by our Head of Design. Some design teammates do operate primarily with the Head of Design, though, and focus on organizational outcomes spanning multiple departments. Regardless of who a designer primarily works with, all design teammates coordinate amongst each other on a unified Sage design strategy.


Role of Design in Other Departments

Design & Product

Design is integral throughout the product development process. In order to set a strong strategy that does not fluctuate during the product development process, a significant amount of competitor and user research is required up front. Ongoing research is required to guide the team through the ever-changing competitive and user landscape. Insights affect feature prioritization and scope as well as defining how features are to be designed at both a functional and visual level. Ongoing iterations are required to evolve our product into the industry-leading design standard our team is capable of setting.

The following steps address the layers of design in any product, website, etc.


  1. Define Strategy
    • Establish a strategy around a given product (market needs, priority, fit within our mission, etc.)
  2. Define Scope
    • Gather functional product requirements through competitive research, interviewing experts, interviewing all relevant stakeholders, analyzing business strategy, design ideation, etc.
  3. Define the UX
    • Design team develops wireframes / lo-fi design
    • UX team conducts usability testing to validate and improve on the lo-fi design and complete design of the functional requirements
    • Final lo-fi design is reviewed with Amit Bharati and the development team, who can start on the backend and the system development
  4. Design the UI
    • Design team develops hi-fi design to layer in and optimize design specific improvements
    • UX team conducts usability testing to further validate and improve on hi-fi design
    • Design is reviewed with Head of Engineering and the development team for the remaining development work
    • Final hi-fi design is released to the broader product team

Design & Engineering

Designers helping engineers: Engineers are involved throughout the product design process. Include engineers during the research stages. Where engineers are not able to take part in research campaigns, the insights gained need to be effectively transferred to engineers’ understanding. High-quality, concise documentation and communication with designers to check for understanding helps engineers. In later stages of design, accompanying UI designs are journey maps, service blueprints, logic flows, and other forms of documentation.

Engineers helping designers: To greater facilitate taking engineering into account with our software design, engineers are to help establish basic understanding of Sage’s software architecture (and UI designers are to remain hungry to better understand it). Another way to ensure design is more calculated is to break product scope down into portions that teams can design and engineer without need for significant outside help.

Optimizing work together: Usability testing, user analytics, A/B testing, and basic user observance are all post-launch UX research strategies to be collaboratively implemented by design, engineering, and non-product teammates together. All these activities inform design of future versioning. So does ongoing competitive research, needfinding, and other UX research strategies for continued innovation in collaboration with engineers.

Design & Marketing

Our inbound and outbound marketing efforts give all agents and potential insureds their first impression of Sage and set the tone for their overall experience with us. Discovering Sage, researching Sage, and being invited to take key actions are some of our most critical touch points and design needs to help. As the marketing team continually creates content and monitors their analytics, design will play a key collaborative role in research and visual presentation with the goal of conversion. “Content strategy is a systematic, thoughtful approach of defining and surfacing the most relevant and effective content at the most opportune time to the appropriate audience segment for the purpose of helping clients achieve measurable brand and business objectives and consumer goals.” - Design Untangled

Additional details cannot be disclosed.

Design & Operations

Service design - unable to disclose details.

Weekly Design Coordination

The purposes of the weekly design meeting are to:

  • Give designers the broader organizational awareness that effective problem solving requires
  • Offer designers a place to gain inspiration from each other on improving the design outcomes within their separate teams
  • Provide a venue where cross-organizational design work can be coordinated
  • Allow the design team to keep tabs on personnel, training, and recruiting needs specific to design

The format of the meeting is to touch on these topics:

  • Cross-departmental overviews of our design work (a brief show and tell or verbal update)
  • Design System updates
  • How we can set ourselves up for greater success
  • Design inspiration / professional development

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