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Design your workflow with clear communication in mind

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There are many different ways to organize your design team, but no matter which you choose, communication is key. By thoughtfully organizing the information flow, both within your team and between departments, you can ensure that Design is focusing their time and energy where it belongs—on design. Implementing tools and habits such as kanban, daily standups, simplified documentation, a dedicated design room, and encouraging regular interaction between designers and engineers can improve the quality of your team’s work while freeing you from the burden of micromanaging every project.

Here are five ways to organize your design team for optimal performance: 

1. Plan with kanban  

At Babbel, our product design teams are post-agile, meaning they aren’t stuck to any one design methodology—they can pick and choose the tools that work best for them. One of these tools is the visual project management system kanban. Kanban has many variations, but at its core is a simple process of moving tasks from “to-do” to “in progress” to “done.” It also allows team members to pull tasks out of the “to-do” column. Rather than delegating tasks to each member of your team, empower designers to choose what tasks they’re going to work on next. Giving designers a choice among tasks creates a sense of ownership over projects that both increases morale and work quality.You’ll also be able to spend less time giving orders and more time doing work that really matters. 

2. Daily standup 

Daily standups are meetings that help set the context and content for the day's work. These are a great way to make sure everyone knows what each other is doing, and–more importantly–that everyone is doing something. Meetings are often organized by getting the team together every morning and having everyone share what they did yesterday, what they’re doing today, and if there’s anything they need help with. We often conduct these meetings standing up, a practice that helps keep meetings efficient, hence the name “daily standup.” 

In my experience, there’s a bit of a learning curve here. Some people go into excruciating detail, while others don’t remember what they did yesterday. Encourage people to jot down a few notes about what they’re working on. And keep the focus on tasks and projects—this isn’t the time for people to talk about the meetings they were in. Consider locking these standups into strictly timed 15-minute sessions. This keeps the discussion brisk but relevant. Coaching team members about how to report in the standup is often needed, and appreciated by the whole team once the meetings run super smoothly.   

3. Keep documentation simple 

My team builds as little documentation as possible. Keeping documentation simple doesn’t just make things easier to find, it also frees your team up to spend more time accomplishing tasks and less time documenting. Documentation isn’t just a job for junior staff. If everyone pitches in and documents their work, the process can be kept short and simple. 

At Babbel, we keep all of our documentation in a wiki called Confluence. Confluence has a few strategic advantages over Google Docs due to its unique discoverability. Acting like the organization’s intranet, employees can discover all types of information. Whereas other applications require sending an invite, simply posting on Confluence allows everyone to view or access all of the published information. You can do everything from creating dedicated pages for different teams, to showing progress from sprints, to company-wide presentations on important internal matters. At Babbel, we use a combination of Google Docs and Confluence to rally a variety of access and discoverability to shared information. Whatever your team uses to document your work, the important thing is that you keep the process simple, so it doesn’t eat up time that could be spent on design. 

4. Dedicated collaboration room 

At Babbel we have a dedicated Design Room where team members can collaborate freely without worrying about disturbing people around them in their work area--and without needing to book a meeting room. The Design Room has whiteboards all the way around, lots of natural light, comfy chairs, high tables and stools around a wall-mounted display.   

We use the Design Room differently from how we use conference rooms, which are occupied for an hour at a time. The Design Room is a safe place for multi-hour workshops and intense design sessions, and a great way to review each other’s work. Our room is well-stocked with a rainbow variety of whiteboard markers, Post-It notepads, sketch paper and pens. We also like to share -  everyone at Babbel is welcome to use the Design Room for collaborative project working sessions. We know that as we grow, we will eventually need to schedule sessions on a calendar, but we are lucky enough to have enough space so the room is always available to collaborate. 

5. Get to know each other 

If you really want the integration between design and engineering to go smoothly, encourage members of the various teams to get to know each other outside of work. Since most of the designers sit on the same floor as the engineers, we encourage flexible seating arrangements so designers can move around based on their projects and the departments with whom they work. At Babbel, we also have a drinks social at the office each week, and we have an area called the Kantine where anyone can sit down and have lunch together. Our Kantine is equipped with two cooking areas for teams to prepare food together, which is a fantastic team-building experience.   

There are many different tools you can choose from when organizing your design team, and these are just a few that have worked well for us here at Babbel. Whatever you do, it’s important that you keep the focus on designing products, not on busywork, and that you put your team in the right situations to communicate as clearly and efficiently as possible. 

Image Credit: / Shutterstock

Scott Weiss
Scott is a UX design visionary who has led design teams in several prominent tech companies. He previously was VP of Design for SwiftKey, and has worked with many other well-known brands.