Accelerating Teams with Design Program Management | by Emma Salom | Sep, 2021

Shining a light on the hidden work of design operations

Photo of woman in front with a laptop jotting something down in a notebook. Sitting across from her is another person working on their laptop.

“When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” — “Godfellas” God Entity, Futurama 2002

I’ve been a design operations leader at Adobe Design for the last four years and in the business of program management for over a decade, and I wanted to take a moment to shine a light on the day-to-day and strengths of this sometimes unnoticed role.

Design Program Management (DPM), whilst still in its infancy as a profession, has become an established vocation for individuals wanting to merge traditional project management with agency-style production.

At Adobe, design program managers work to ensure product teams are consistently meeting their output expectations and commitments with the best user experience (UX) possible front of mind.

For an overview of the role, please take a look at this excellent post from 2018 by a friend and mentor about program managers and what they do:

We often ask our design leaders to not only cover design strategy, but the day-to-day management involved in the execution of that strategy. This can be too extensive for one person, and weighs down our leaders with responsibilities that don’t play to their strengths.

With a design program manager in place, leadership is shared. Teams have a leader who specializes in:

  • Enabling user-centric innovation
  • Maximizing the results of their team
  • Providing design leadership

Here are some of examples of activities where a design program manager‘s strengths can shine.

Enabling user-centric innovation by:

  • Defining and driving programs that are grounded in the design process
  • Working alongside design leadership to define and drive design activities
  • Creating engagement models that respect and make space for the design process

Maximize the results of their teams through the combination of optimized process, communication, and best practices by:

  • Clarifying roles and responsibilities in ambiguous situations
  • Project planning and scheduling
  • Workflow management and optimization
  • Making it their business to ensure teams are communicating, collaborating, and that stakeholders are aligned throughout the process

Provide design leadership through:

  • Cross-functional relationship building
  • Stakeholder engagement models
  • Course correcting engagements and escalating when necessary

In a time when teams are struggling with information overload, the adjustments of a distributed workforce, and ever-shortening timelines, you need a trusted design leader who specializes in the business of getting things done well.

All this to say that when you are building out new teams or starting new initiatives, consider program management early. The end of a failed engagement is too late to realize that you needed a leader who specialized in the hidden work behind execution, or a leader to cover the essential intersection of design, research, product, development, and leadership.

For more information about our awesome design team at Adobe, take a look at

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