Is your team healthy?

Dave Malouf, design ops leader shared his expertise on understanding, measuring, and managing the health of design teams. The talk was focussed on design but the principles could be applied to any creative, marketing, development or consulting contexts, if not others.

The event held on May 15, was hosted by the Design Ops meetup crew and like many other meetups in these COVID lock-down times was held online. I’m sure I’ll return to these notes many times so I’ve taken the time to share the presentation and the Q&A in some detail here.



  • Serendipity, association by design
  • Formulation and processes that look at exploration
  • Critique
  • Storytelling – giving it place and purpose and understand to evaluate
    places to externalize work – compared not just by us and others

How to measure it? 

  • Ideas generated by rounds of work
  • How many critique sessions? Quality of critiques.
  • Can anyone show work at any time, ask for help at any time?



  • Bringing the outside world into the organisation
  • Synthesising to inform new ideas
  • Interacting with people (research subjects)

How to measure it? 

  • Insights that are usable
  • Do people understand your product/experience? Can it be found?
  • Using SUS, asking and measuring did we make it better, are we moving forward?
  • Is what we are creating valuable?
  • Is research or testing performed with a regular cadence?
  • Are stakeholders regularly in contact with end-customers (cited Jared Spool’s concept of regular contact hours – e.g. a regular cadence of 2 hrs every 6 weeks)



  • Co-creating with people in and out of the organisation

How to measure it? 

  • Looking at design-related user stories in backlog against what is output at the end of the sprint



  • Clear mission vision and goals
  • Clear roles and responsibilities for the design team, within and across teams, and further out in the organisation

How to measure it? 

  • Surveys and instruments to understand if the team is communicating well



  • Flow, team performance, a team that feels they are contributing
  • … as opposed to a team that is over-stressed, burnt out, doing more than they should be doing

How to measure it? 

  • Are the team providing referrals?
  • Surveys, does the team feel they are doing work they should not be doing?

The measures were both quantitative and qualitative. Dave Malouf described that some vital signs of team performance are clear and can be measured, instrumented, and quantified. Other signs are qualitative – looking at things that are observable and having things that can be compared against.

An interesting discussion followed, expertly facilitated by the hosts considering it was all online. Dave expanded on what he is doing with his relatively new team outlining that they are creating their own vital signs and measuring engagement via pulse surveys. This has included setting heuristic standards based on principles. I was particularly interested in this as while I’ve answered employee engagement survey questions about company values I’ve never thought to quantify what teams I’ve led thought of the culture in relation to principles we have agreed to.

Understanding of roles and confusing titles was another issue spoken about, which has impacted hiring through to promotion and giving feedback to people. This is being addressed by rebuilding the ladder and creating a new measurement based on that.

Engagement is so often tied to meaningful work. A solution to understanding the type of work being performed was to measure the proportion of time spent on value-adding strategic work versus time spent on operational tasks.

Other questions and answers were:

Audience Question: How do you tackle the challenges of remote asynchronous work versus real-time work?
Dave Malouf: What’s missing from distributed teams (and any team more than 100 designers is distributed) is passive transparency and being able to see externalised work.

Audience Question: How do you coach your team?
DM: Take interest in the individual goals of people, where they want to be in 5 years, and then figure out how to get them there. Dave added to this that he is “real” with people, work structures are pyramids and their goal might not be reached at that workplace. He asks them to find a job description that makes them hungry -which is used as a tool to identify gaps to fill.

Audience Question: How do you balance collaboration when you are dealing with an overly competitive coworker?
DM: Manages toxic personalities by using principles and values to help people make decisions — some of those decisions are around who does what when? Who speaks when? Competitive people often see themselves as hardworking, ambitious, confident not competitive. You need to step up and gain visibility of how to do that for the better

Also, recognise the nature of the situation — is it competitiveness? Refreshingly Dave Malouf recognised the privilege and “culture of patriarchy” and learning to recognise behaviour that wasn’t uninclusive – and calling each other out.

Audience Question: How can you ask for constructive feedback from clients?
DM: Often clients come back with recommendations not constructive feedback. Use retros during the project.

So many of the issues were all too familiar and it was energising and heartening for me that care for people and culture was the topic. This — if not anything else, proves the value of thinking about design ops and design leadership as disciplines in their own right. 

The Work Experience

Telecommuting – the future ain’t what it used to be

Productivity versus collaboration. Isolation versus distraction. The pros and cons of working from home and “telecommuting” were making the rounds last week with articles about Google and Yahoo policies. Google, despite enabling its users to collaborate remotely doesn’t favour the practise itself. The positions of these companies on the matter are summarised by Asher Moses and Ben Grubb with some additional research facts, stats and links. Here’s a sample:

Dr Blount said telecommuting was not a one-size-fits-all solution and in each case a business case needed to be made.
Her research has found that in some instances team members and managers felt reluctant to “bother” teleworkers at home which could hinder collaboration, while at the same time the teleworkers themselves reported being far more productive and satisfied. Some however experienced “social and professional isolation”.

If this is an issue in your workplace read on for more links and references to a Deloitte study “Telecommuting – the future ain’t what it used to be”–the-future-aint-what-…

The Work Experience

Personnel Economics: The Economist’s View of Human Resources

Monetary incentives are the petri dish where motivation grows in work environments, particularly in sales. Whether the culture that forms is a healthy one or not depends on context. Customers’ expectations of service providers are changing. People expect service not just sales. So how do you design an incentive scheme that supports customer service and results in sales?

I don’t pretend to know the answers. All I know from my experience as a service designer is that incentives (and remuneration) are factors that someone needs to be thinking about when change is being rolled out.

The paper “Personnel Economics: The Economist’s View of Human Resources” provides an overview of HR from an economic perspective. I hope to share enough of it so that you might read the whole piece. Here’s the teaser:

Personnel economics drills deeply into the firm to study human resource management practices like compensation, hiring practices, training, and teamwork. Many questions are asked. Why should pay vary across workers within firms–and how “compressed” should pay be within firms? Should firms pay workers for their performance on the job or for their skills or hours of work? How are pay and promotions structured across jobs to induce optimal effort from employees? Why do firms use teams and how are teams used most effectively? How should all these human resource management practices, from incentive pay to teamwork, be combined within firms? Personnel economics offers new tools and new answers to these questions.

The paper theorises on how pay determines culture in its discussion of piece rate pay versus performance pay. It talks about pay conditions that foster team work and cooperation and the trade-offs that they involve. It’s not all about money though, so the paper also considers “hedonic” factors like prestige, recognition, and working conditions. 

It’s easy to measure the output of sales people, but how “service” is measured needs to be considered if the behaviour of staff needs to change to meet new objectives. 

The article is by Edward P. Lazear and Kathryn L. Shaw can be downloaded via It is available for free for those with access to academic databases. If you don’t have access the paper is $5, and worth every cent.