Many different types of organisations are today increasingly adopting Design Systems in order to achieve maximum efficiency in their digital development. However, Design Systems can face challenges brought by the effects of business transformation, corporate merging or brand identity changes. How can Design Systems be built to survive the potential increasing complexity and challenges of the evolving environment where they belong?
We already know that Design Systems evolve constantly with the products they serve and due to this fact they require a flexible structure in order to be maintainable and scalable, but we also believe that there are other valuable points to consider. In this article we will go through the points we consider as main ingredients for a successful Design System.
Things to consider from the early start
Typically a Design System is born from the initiative of a business unit or a department managing different product development projects, aiming to prevent wasting design and development resources by introducing reusable frontend coding.
Although setting up a common frontend development library and UI kit can somehow improve consistency between isolated teams, the real efficiency of a Design System is ruled by other factors that enable and encourage true design and development cooperation between the teams involved. One of the most important of these factors is inclusion. It is a wise step to bring together all designers and developers from different teams and make them share their encountered issues, questions, doubts, suggestions, and opinions. Giving everyone a voice will increase a feeling of inclusivity and a sense of ownership, which will result in more involvement, synced work, and efficient collaboration.
Tip: Get in touch and get to know the users of the Design System and their needs. Schedule recurrent meetings with a collaborative topic agenda and structured facilitation for product team owners, designers, and frontend developers.
In large or merging organisations, the Design System might need to be introduced and adopted by new business units and their stakeholders, and they will only adopt it if they understand the value of it. For this reason, it is important to consider the Design System as a product from the beginning, requiring a clear strategy that defines:
- Foundational values – In which values the Design System is based?
- Users and needs – For whom are we doing it?
- Product ecosystem – The potential products/teams we can serve
- Team – Who has the ownership? What are the resources?
- Vision, mission and goals – Why are we doing it?
- Product features – What is included or delivered?
- Value proposition – What are the benefits of using it?
- KPIs – How will the impact be measured?
- Roadmap – An iterative and updated long-term plan
Tip: Start by defining assumption based user personas by first gathering through collaboration boards the needs from all the teams involved and consolidate them into the needs of each user persona of the Design System.
An atomic design approach benefits flexibility and scalability of components into new requirements. The tokens and components of a well-structured Design System are easier to adapt to challenges brought by the new product requirements or new brand identities, enabling the maintenance of consistent user experience across different products.
Tip: It is good to keep flexibility in mind from every perspective, one example is to think about the naming structure of the tokens, eg. avoiding naming conventions that include color names relating to a certain brand identity color palette.
Templates, contribution flowcharts and design principles
Component documentation is not enough to bring consistency between product teams. Because designers can interpret and use information in many different ways resulting in an increasing amount of solutions for similar purposes, it would be convenient to document templates including already coded components in order to support the consistency of design.
Before the creation of new components, it is useful to confirm that there aren’t other existing coded components that could be used or adapted to new product requirements. This could be done by following a flowchart for component creation and usage. Since most of the initiatives for new components come usually from product design, it is convenient to start the flowchart from the design perspective considering differing option paths towards development stages.
The consideration of good design practices to achieve a more consistent experience across different products can be consolidated and promoted within the Design System by defining and documenting a set of design principles. These principles should be based on the foundational values defined within the strategy and they should include some detailed examples of their application in order to serve effectively design teams.
Tip: It is convenient to create and validate flowcharts, principles and other guidelines in collaboration with all designers and developers involved in the Design System, that will be the way to ensure that everyone will adopt and apply them into their work.
Tools and technology
The usage of too many design production and documentation tools adds complexity and makes it difficult to follow the consistency of design and delivery of technical specifications. It is important to research tools available in the market and opt for products that will allow consolidating as many features as possible within a single environment.
Tip: There are some good tools consolidating many features in a single package. Consider studying these tools and give the team the chance to decide on the most convenient and efficient option.
Clear and efficient documentation impacts production velocity and avoids siloed decisions. On a large scale this translates into saving the efforts of repeating tasks and duplicated work, saving effort and resources.
There are more options today for Design System documentation platforms, but perhaps one of today’s most valuable features to consider for a documentation tool is the ability to showcase live coded examples. Is very useful to see and try components in action already from the documentation. This will allow any user to test eg. the responsive behaviour of the coded components.
Custom platform solutions give designers the ease to test lively the reliability of components when eg. changing contents or language version. This could ease the finding of issues on a design that might be good to fix before proceeding into final product production.
Tip: Designers and developers should come to a common understanding of what would be the best platform tool to enhance their daily Design System use. Which features are the ones that will really boost their efficiency in production?
Leadership and communication
A Design System cannot succeed without effective communication and good leadership. A successful Design System equals a community of designers, developers and other product stakeholders sharing commitment in achieving maximum efficiency of performance in product development, usability, accessibility and improved user experience. A positive atmosphere promoting trust, psychological safety and transparency are essential to building respect, collaboration, inspiration and commitment within all the parts involved.
Spread the word. Opening communication channels to invite and keep stakeholders updated on new features or promoting transparency on decision making are also convenient practices, but they might not be efficient enough without some sort of planning. Excess of information or repeating communication can easily turn unnoticed or ignored. What are the important things to communicate and to whom? Which will be the channels to be used for different purposes? These can be some questions to think about when making communication decisions.
Tip: Executing more planned communication can enhance the impact on the interest and involvement of stakeholders.
Dedicated development resources
All the previously mentioned things can become basically worthless without the required amount of dedicated development resources (Design System developers) or appropriate distribution of the development work (contribution from the teams). It would be suitable to have at least one dedicated developer within the team, who could plan, document, coordinate and lead the frontend work related to the Design System.
Tip: It is important to consider and evaluate in advance the potential risk of running out of development resources in case there is a significant growth of frontend requirements.
A great part of the success of a Design System relies on how well it achieves to integrate stakeholders into a collaborative community, sharing common goals, principles, and open communication by defining a clear strategy.
The use of documented decision-making flowcharts together with a set of defined design principles can effectively support product teams to achieve a better, consistent user experience.
In order to enhance the flexibility and scalability of a Design System, it is important to build its components based on an atomic structure and to use descriptive token naming conventions that are not structured by elements of a specific brand identity.
Ensuring enough frontend resources and work distribution it is crucial to respond effectively to product development needs with the required speed.
Read more on Design Systems:
DevOps has become the new de facto software development framework. Just like Agile years before, DevOps was adopted by teams. These teams were searching for ways to scale continuous integration into continuous deployment and delivery. Combining the development and operation of software into a single responsibility area is no small task. Scaling DevOps from individual teams to enterprise-level increases the complexity and difficulty by magnitudes. Organizations that strive for enterprise-level DevOps require a paradigm shift from traditional ways of organizing to a product and value stream-based approach. Basically, the Lean-Agile principles need to be spread left and right into Business and IT.
The product approach
Products have unique characteristics compared to other similar entities. Most notable of these is the product life-cycle, which requires forward-thinking, brutally objective examination i.e. life-cycle management. Traditionally we’ve viewed products as commercial entities, but a product can be anything, big or small, with a specific value proposition and a managed life-cycle. A product can be an internal operating system such as a CRM or something as small as a test automation solution. Shifting from traditional IT into product management requires an end-to-end mindset. Organizing your IT systems and platforms into a product portfolio is the first step towards adopting the enterprise DevOps.
The value stream approach
The Toyota Production System, widely referred to as Lean, approaches the organization of work as value streams. One of the core principles of Lean is to organize people around customer value-adding work, instead of spreading the work across an organization i.e. a value stream. A Value Stream Map describes the flow of customer value as the required steps and information to produce the expected customer value. Combining the Value Stream approach to the Product Approach creates a systematic way to focus on outcomes: Product Value Streams. However, the Value Streams of digital products are not the same as the value streams in a factory. They are more like networks. Interconnected nodes with the built-in capability to work around problems, instead of stopping the line once an incident occurs. To harness the benefits of product value streams, we need to understand the interconnectedness of the products and their value streams as a network. These connections need to be managed carefully to e.g. avoid suboptimization. Organizing into product value streams is an organisation-wide exercise that requires mindful engagement from every stakeholder.
Scale DevOps to enterprise level by
- Start thinking in products to make use of robust practices like life-cycle management
- Organize into value streams to organize people around work focused on customer value
- Understand the interconnectedness of your product value streams to manage your value stream network
Would you like to adopt agile and lean methodologies? Read more here
Sustainability in the development of digital services includes also the project, and consequently, relates not only to the product but also the process and the people within. Therefore, making positive impact through sustainability in the development of digital services should satisfy the following. The software should be green, it should be perdurable, it should bring social added values both for its users and technical community, bear a long-term profit, have a low cost, help evolving organization intellectual capital, and make sure that it is comfortable for the developers to work with as well as that it helps to evolve beneficial knowledge and skills in the long run.
Sustainability Within is a set of Good Growth offerings that focuses on sustainability in the software development lifecycle and as an integral part of development activities. This set of offerings can also be used as an overarching model for making a positive impact through sustainability in the development of digital services.
Tech to save the world (environmental)
We need to ensure that we are working towards environmentally friendly software. We need this to make sure that software can be created, used, maintained, and disposed of with minimal impact on the environment.
We can evaluate this from two perspectives: energy consumption and resource consumption. Resources consumption can include other software products, the software, and hardware configuration of the system, digital obsolescence of both software and hardware, and materials e.g. print paper, storage media. Energy is controlled by its efficiency which includes energy efficiency, runtime efficiency, CPU-intensity, memory usage, peripheral intensity, idleness, and algorithmic efficiency. Furthermore, we should also consider how the energy to run the system is produced as we should choose infrastructure platforms that are carbon neutral or even carbon negative.
Digital resilience (technical)
We need to make sure that the design and operation of long-lived, sustainable systems are not hampered by limited support for the change over time and limited preservation of system knowledge. We need this to make sure that software is being created so that it can easily adapt to future change.
Technical software sustainability is related to the long-time usage of software systems and is referred to as perdurability. Both functional and technical aspects influence software survivability. Functional software evolving is due to requirement changes. Technical evolving is generally due to incessant technology evolution. Quality attributes such as maintainability, portability and usability promote software perdurability.
Services for social capital (social)
We need to create software that enhances social capital values.
We can evaluate this via two aspects: the technical community and the software users. Added social value for the technical community comes from enabling participation, communication, and interaction in the software development process. From software users’ perspective, it comes from added social values for the users, such as, improved information security, ethical use of data, and accessibility.
Developer wellbeing (individual)
We need to be creating software that the developers enjoy working with. We need this to make sure that software is being created and maintained in a way that enables developers to be satisfied with their job over a long period of time.
Evaluating this goes deeper into the software development process and how work is organized. There should at least be a comfortable number of working hours, payment, working conditions, et cetera, and the knowledge and skills needed should be constructive for the developers. In Finland, this is usually a no-brainer, but we should make sure that all people that develop the code are well paid and fairly treated in every part of the production chain.
Business savvy software (economic)
We need to create software that is as safe as possible from an economic risks perspective. We need to be able to make sure that software systems are being created so that the stakeholders’ long-term investments are as safe as possible from economic risks.
We can evaluate the development of economically sustainable software from three perspectives: low costs, long-term profitability, and evolving intellectual capital. The software should have a low-cost process whether looking from market requirements value or physical value with respect to cost aspect. The software should bear a long term profit either from innovation value for market or differential value. Consequently, the software development process should help to evolve the intellectual capital whether looking from a human, structural, or relationship value perspective.
Good Growth offering cards for Sustainability Within
Can we do it together?
Check also my discussion starter “Making positive impact through sustainability in the development of digital services” which plays on the idea if we could incorporate sustainability into our daily software development activities as consultants? Are you getting interested? Do connect and let’s start working together on this. Have you checked what Good Growth is about?
Capability Owner of Web Development
New hybrid workforce 2021 vol 3.
At your workplace can you be who you are without fear of being put down when expressing yourself? Do you feel that your work is appreciated and your ideas are heard openly? If yes, you are one of the lucky ones. Unfortunately, this not the case in every workplace and team.
Leadership Essentials in a New Normal
The pandemic has created a new normal for knowledge workers. My earlier blogs were about algorithms as colleagues and bosses, changes in physical workspace parameters, and exponentially growing virtual remote work. Three leadership essentials of the new hybrid workforce renewal in 2021 and beyond are shared situational awareness and purpose, a psychologically safe working environment, and a relationship-driven operating system.
For a new hybrid workforce in 2021, the key question to be answered is not about whether we are working face-to-face vs. remote or in physical vs. virtual settings, but about how to implant sustainable behaviours nourishing mutual trust and togetherness. As a leader, you need more understanding, desire for change and a growth mind-set to succeed. Strategies showing direction and plans clarifying job roles with goals are important. However, what happens every day at workplaces between colleagues is the key for success.
More Focus on Psychological Safety
“Psychological safety means an absence of interpersonal fear. When psychological safety is present, people are able to speak up with work-relevant content.” – Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School
In the work life of today we are suffering from a humanity deficit. Even before the pandemic too many knowledge workers were exhausted and experienced high levels of mental strain often resulting from bad management and non-constructive relationships at work. Research shows also that compassion and ethical development have been missing from organizational development for years (Co-Humans, 11/2020). This has led to lack of courage, fear, silos, glass-ceilings, and passive non-constructive behaviours.
The growth of remote work has not made things easier. A foundation for a construct of psychological safety at the workplace is the organisational concept of human-beings (i.e., Theory X and Y). It means how individuals are seen and treated in an organisation by others. This foundation needs to be supported by full presence of leadership (even more important in virtual meetings), active listening, and most importantly, keeping track of equal share of voice amongst participants. The latter has been evidenced as the most important driver of psychological safety within teams by well renowned Google meta-research some years ago.
Impact on Leadership
As a leader, you are the main responsible for the level of psychological safety within your organisation and your team. Turn your assumptions into facts before acting. Investigate if all of your people can express themselves equally and act with respect towards each other, even in meetings when you are not present. Some basic questions for you to think about and ask from others to assess, to analyse and to know your current situation:
- Are people considered as short-term resources (costs) or long-term assets (value creators)?
- Are people seen as individuals with personal ambitions and needs?
- Are meetings more about brainstorming or blamestorming?
- What words do people use when they are taking about their colleagues?
- Who is/are the hero(es) of the organisation and why?
There is positive evidence that organisations which are focusing on and securing psychological safety ground rules, applicable even in hybrid settings, both physical and digital, are emerging as winners.
New hybrid workforce 2021 vol. 2
My virtual meeting marathon, the 8th one for today, just finished. Even though I try very hard to recall details from the first meeting, I do not remember them anymore. Was I fully present and engaged? Did I listen actively more than I talked? Did I feel appreciated, encouraged, and belonging? Does this sound familiar to you?
Groundhog Days of Pandemic
For knowledge workers, remote work during the pandemic has become like Groundhog Day. In the movie, Bill Murray wakes up for a new day with high hopes, but in the end the day is identical – day after day. The pandemic has revealed to us that there is a need for a change in the way we work, how we get organised, and how people are led without losing our primary needs as social animals. There is no right or wrong, no one size-fits all solutions. The only thing true is that workspace choices made today will have deep implications for performance, staff well-being and leadership success for years to come.
Remote Work Not Allowed
Before the pandemic in most workplaces, excluding some IT and creative sector forerunners, needs of employees and wants of management regarding remote work didn´t correlate. Remote work was mostly unacceptable due to its roots in Theory X of human-beings as lazy, incompetent to think for themselves, and untrustworthy when operating alone. In addition, almost 200 years after Taylorism, many organisations are still founded around inflexible control and command mechanisms. Especially, middle management fear of losing authority over subordinates, and evidenced lack of trust towards staff working without close supervision, have been the modus operandi – the way of operating without questioning it.
A crisis often enforces people to change their behavior, as happened with the pandemic. It changed everything almost overnight both in the minds and actions of many industries and workplaces, both at the individual and organisational levels. It triggered the shift in general attitude towards remote work forever.
Death by Zoom Meetings
Risto Siilasmaa, ex-chairman of the board of Nokia, mentioned in an interview in March 2020 that according to their internal survey asking about working location preferences at the group, 20% of respondents didn’t want to return to their offices ever again. How would these Nokia people answer to a similar survey today?
Various research conducted after that date about virtual work. Most findings are the same. For example, the Work Trend Index of July 2020 made by Microsoft states that video-meeting fatigue is real. Studies show that time needed for commuting to work has decreased, but the length of the working day has increased in remote work settings. In my native Finland such a figure is, on average, 48 minutes daily.
Even with more time at work, productivity especially in creativity intensive work has not drastically increased with the same proportions. In addition, during autumn 2020 when virtual meetings’ technical challenges had been finally resolved in most workplaces, many of us noticed that remote meetings are good in one-way communication status checks amongst small parties present on-line, or recorded for later viewing. However, as second-best option for two-person face-to-face meetings, there is a strong trend now towards old-time telephone voice-only calls for better mobility, personalisation and privacy, rather than high visual content MS Teams, Zoom, or similar tools.
Without any hesitation, it can be said that bigger venues focusing on innovation and creative virtual events have become shadows of physical encounters, both in terms of motivational flow and productivity. The challenge is not in engaging and gamifying virtual platforms, but it is more about humans as social animals, craving for connections, respect, reason to exist, and shared achievements. It has also been noticed that whatever the group size, innovations, inspiration, belongness, new ideas and transformation of tacit knowledge happen only in face-to-face encounters. In short, these types of events require co-operation, curiosity, courage, and creativity in a right context and from all fully present and equally heard. Such a climate will not happen by chance. It needs to be built brick by brick.
Impact on Leadership
It is estimated that remote knowledge workers’ work will consist of at least 40-50% of their working time in the future. When your people will meet you and colleagues only occasionally in physical hub locations face-to-face, and are mostly working remotely at home or in bespoke offices, your leadership focus will need to shift from management of time-related work to efficient person-centric support. This means that you need to be interested in your people not only through their work, but also at a personal level. Their performance today and tomorrow are influenced by their personal situation, capabilities, needs, dreams, and wants.
Your emotional intelligence, situational leadership, intercommunication skillset and clarity in direction/roles and goals will become high priority both when meeting face-to-face and virtually. You need to grow your mind-set and leadership toolbox to adapt to the context rather than the content of the work. Simultaneously, you need to build a mutually inclusive high-trust environment between you and every single knowledge worker you are creating opportunities for and remove any impediments.
Did you miss the previous part of New hybrid workforce series? Read about the future of physical offices from the part 1.
It was about ten months ago when I last exchanged ideas with my colleagues’ face-to-face. This period has provided me more time to concentrate on tasks at hand. However, I would be lying if I said that I have not missed encounters in the coffee room or happy laughter at lunches with colleagues and network partners. Does this feeling resonate with you as well?
Physical Workspace Reflect Organizational Culture
The pandemic has created a new normal for knowledge workers. It has revealed to us that there is a need for a change in the ways we work, how we get organized, and how people are lead without losing our basic human social needs. Workspace choices made today will have deep implications for performance, staff well-being and leadership success for years to come.
One way to define culture is what is felt, considered, and shared as purposeful for people working within an organization. In short, the culture is about expressed values and behaviors. What remains in 2021 and beyond, is the fact that office space is still one of the most visible artifacts of a company culture. However, how, where and when physical settings express culture and ways of working will evolve.
Depending on company industry and its heritage, office spaces might represent different things. For some, they reflect free-minded thinking, light hierarchies, and self-determinant way of working. Already prior to the pandemic, in such settings office spaces had communal lounge areas, hot desk workspaces and different team/agile workrooms. For others, office space is about trustworthiness, calm working areas and possibilities for deep concentration. In such spaces, distinctive features are individual working rooms, rest areas and public open lounges to build perceptions of prosperity and power.
Evolution of Physical Workspace in 2021 and beyond
During 2020, almost all knowledge work worldwide has been transferred to virtual spaces. The pandemic and exponentially increased remote work have led to the situation where there are too many old-fashioned and expensive, inflexible empty offices in prime locations in major cities. High office space rental and inflexible rental agreements have become a burden for management. This means a drastic adjustment by any company to get organized according to workflow and specific individual employees’ needs rather than headcount, as it used to be.
Concretely this means that headquarters (HQ) will reflect even more the purpose and working culture of organizations. This HQ office space is mostly for general encounters with a big room, high-tech and touch group workspaces, and recording studio facilities, for example, for company wide webinars. The daily work is done to a great extent in a hub and spoke network of smaller shared office spaces gathering knowledge workers from many different stakeholders under one roof, not only for cost savings, but also for shared insights and more profound co-operations.
Impact on Leadership
The leaders’ role is changing. It cannot be anymore solely about alignment, but more about sparking people´s inner motivation, showing appreciation, and giving guidance. On those scarce occasions in the future, when people are getting physically together, the goal is to be engaged rather than to perform. The journey from past command and especially control to work enrichment and tackling any impediments hindering people´s potential to succeed has started and is getting stronger daily.
As far as remaining physical offices are concerned, key action for visionary leaders is to make rigid choices in design and selection of purposeful physical office spaces which support high craving for encounters, as well as allow opportunities for sudden interactions. Are you ready to make those choices already today to secure your future?