Design Leader Insights - Farid Sabitov on Breaking Down Silos Across Ops

February 27, 2024


Alex Smith: Design Leader Insights is brought to you by Fuego UX. Fuego UX is a leading UX research, strategy, and design consultancy. Hey Farid, thank you so much for joining the show today. Thank you for having me.

Farid Sabitov: Yeah, for sure.

Alex Smith: And as we get started, can you give us a little bit of context in your journey in, in UX?

Farid Sabitov: Sure. So I've been in the tech industry for more than 13 years. I started as a software engineer for the first like one or two years, and then I moved into design because I wanted to do things much faster and have more impact. So that's the reason why I moved into design because I wanted to be closer to the business. And for the last four years I've been focusing on operations design operations especially, where I gained a lot of knowledge and experience working with, like, talented people, and I'm always into processes, I'm always into craft excellence into ops excellence. So that's the reason why I wanted to like grow and scale a little bit more into horizontal programs like design ops where I could facilitate and help others to learn and improve their again, craft excellence within their organization. Yeah, and for the last four years I've been focusing on design operations, where it's all related to evolving specific practices, like content design or product design or design systems. Design systems is a huge topic there, lately, I've been focusing on the metrics itself, how to communicate value for specific programs for specific disciplines within large organizations, where you have like hundreds of designers. And I know the market is tough, so that's the reason why everyone is trying to like actually measure the impact and the value and the quality of all the things that we are performing as a part of the program practice or discipline overall. So this is the core focus and this is my journey. 

Alex Smith: I saw you speak, I believe it was in December, at a DesignOps conference in Los Angeles and you were talking, it was an awesome presentation on those metrics. And I think, how would you tell teams to start thinking about critical metrics for a design org that maybe isn't measuring those today?

Farid Sabitov: Sure. So there are so many data points that you could measure, but it's important to understand the reason why we’re trying to measure specific things. It always starts with strategy with understanding of the objectives that we are trying to reach so let me give you an example within the design practice. There are so many practices like as I mentioned product design, content design, user research design systems. Let's dive deeper into design system and let's have a like more specific context. So let's imagine that you have a large organization with like dozens of products and you and you invested a lot into the design system and you are focusing on the adoption. So you have the design system, you have the first release, you have things in storybook and figma, they are somehow connected and now you are trying to focus on that option. When you have direction when you have like specific objectives it's easier to set up the metrics because you are trying to prioritize the metrics that will, that will again, like, tailor, that will add more value to your story, that will, like, support your narrative, right? Speaking about design system, if you are trying to focus on the adoption, there are many different ways to do that. But it's important to visualize the whole process. Try to understand, okay, like, what kind of processes do we have internally? How do we collaborate with other partners? And what kind of things we could measure, right? Because there are so many things that we could measure. In some of the cases within the tool, you will find a lot of interesting data points that you could utilize to have the first iteration of your metrics. So, for example, for design system, in the case of if you're trying to increase the adoption, you might focus on the things, like, areas like contributions. How many contributions are you getting outside of your design system? And maybe like your own design system performance. How many new components or how many new requests or how many new patterns did you like define for the last quarter for the last month? Then, the adoption itself right? The adoption itself could be captured by design as a practice. Engineering as a practice and then connecting these two dots together as a product, right? It's really important to have organized, be organized and disciplined in the ways how we work so that we will get the clean data out of these data points. So like there are so many things that you could measure there are so many data points that you could take. It is just important to start with the objective and then go through all the different areas and try to define Which kind of data points will support your narrative.

Alex Smith: I think that makes a ton of sense. I think one other thing you talked about, which I want to like shout from the mountaintops, is always breaking down silos. And you talked about design ops working with product ops and dev ops, which makes a ton of sense. And I don't think I've ever seen anyone talk about that. So, let's switch gears to maybe that, that design ops or product ops manager that might be listening. How do you encourage them? Because they're probably doing a lot of similar work, honestly. How do you encourage them to break down those silos?

Farid Sabitov: Yeah, the main hideout of this talk is we are all doing the same things from different lenses. So engineering ops might focus on the onboarding experience and they are trying to, like, improve it, right? And if design or product will not be a part of that, like, we are going to miss the design and product voice within the onboarding experience. So it's important to collaborate and there are a couple of stages, practical stages that people can take. First of all, it's understand and like build partnerships with other ops experts within the organization. And then one of the practical ways to start is just to visualize the product development lifecycle and the employee experience. And if you will visualize all of that, then you will take all the initiatives that this specific engineering ops team has done before or design ops team has done before. You could see the overlays and you could learn from each other and like within large organizations. It's always happening that you're trying to focus on one specific thing like staffing for example, and at the same time another team is working on the same things but from different lenses. So if you collaborate, it's not only like defining and understanding that there are areas for collaboration, but also I like this approach of design critiques right or code reviews. So similar things could be applied for operations like ops reviews or ops critique sessions where you are doing something from a designer's perspective, but then you are creating a room for other product ops and engineering hubs to come and like share their feedback and maybe they will highlight, oh, actually we've done the products map before, product ops might say, and they will just add more links to your playbook that will be more helpful if designers are asking what are the main capabilities this specific product is solving for or useful for.

Alex Smith: Farid, what advice do you have for new designers entering the field today? 

Farid Sabitov: First thing is to buy a premium ChatGPT subscription. Because like you need to learn, actually, you need to have specific AI literacy to know how to use these models in your own advantage. And it's not only about like writing emails or writing messages to your colleagues. You can create custom agents within ChatGBT by setting up some custom instructions. If you are going into user research, you could create synthetic personas and do synthetic interviews or synthetic usability tests with the OpenAI Vision API and you can like actually put your designs there, out there, and it will be able to critique. And it's like, for entry level, some of these things might be a good feedback for you to improve and evolve. For service design, if you are new to a specific domain, you could create a subject matter expert in e-commerce, or maybe in other fields, and just ask so many questions, or ask to create a customer journey map for a specific program. So, like, what I'm trying to say is to utilize AI and have AI literacy and don't think about like this ChatGPT is just like to use that for emails, right? One thing that I would love for every designer to like to focus and put more attention into is not only experience, but also making sure that you know the customer's problems, pain points. If you have used the researcher, that doesn't mean that you don't have to make a user search, right? There are some like pretty simple entry point user research studies like interviews and usability tests that everyone could run and actually product management, they are doing that. This is a part of their responsive analysis as well. And the second part is to learn how to read the data because, and I'll and think about the ways how you will like to like how to communicate the value of a specific feature of a specific product that you are working on. Learning the business language is so important for designers, and at some point of time, because we have some specific understanding on the market how design should work, how product should work, unfortunately, you will see some limitations within the design. And that's the reason why people are switching into product management, because they can like, own the product, they could lead the strategy of how product will grow. But like, this is like, completely different story and requires a lot of different skill sets, but there are a lot of overlaps. 

Alex Smith: So true. Farid thank you so much for coming on and sharing these insights today. 

Farid Sabitov: Sure, happy to be here. Thank you for inviting me.