DesignOps Summit 2021 – Design Staffing Models (Alica Mooty)

Group Program Manager, Adobe Design

Today’s Discussion: How do you best organize your Design team to work within a changing environment?


I was tasked with addressing staffing needs for a team that operated on a Dedicated staffing model

  • There was a lot of conflict, a lot of change, and a lot of resistance to that change

So, I slightly tweaked my question

How do we normalize things and create small changes without making it too disruptive?

Think about these two different models as we talk about the team

  • Dedicated Staffing Model
    • Staff designer by a singular area
      • That could be a product, or it could be a service team
    • Agency model
      • Time-based projects

Case Study

We had ownership of multiple products, large flagship products within Adobe as well as multiple services – Cross product areas of ownership

  • Collaboration workflow which must work across different products
  • A few of these services were new to the team  had to figure out how do we apply new staffing to things that were new to the group
  • We’re tasked with the challenge of – How do we apply design staffing within this complex organization in partnership with the engineering and product teams that had been applied across other groups as well

Obstructed view of how they staffed that team across all these products and services


Resources are not applied equally

  • Each product and service have a different level of maturity and different needs that require different levels of staffing

As I looked at our current design staffing (staffed using the Dedicated model)

  • There are gaps across the organization and part of this is intentional
    • Some of these teams are more back end focused more architectural – didn’t have a strong design need
    • Other gaps were not intentional

How do we approach design staffing for a large organization when we have new projects and new complexities to deal with?

Benefits of the Staffing Models


  • Creates deep vertical expertise for that designer they develop depth but not necessarily breathe across a product space

Agency (or Pooled Staffing)

  • Designers rotate from one project to another
    • Gives them a horizontal mastery or breath across your organization but may not develop the same vertical depth

Pros and Cons

Book Recommendation – Drive by Daniel Pink

Talks about the 3 areas of motivation

  • Autonomy
  • Purpose
  • Mastery

You don’t want to rotate so often that folks start excluding their sense of belonging and you also don’t want to make it such a short rotation that they don’t feel like they had the time to contribute

The decision of which staffing model is better to use will come down to preference

Created a Hybrid Staffing Model

  • How could I help alleviate the problems around the ramp up time necessary and shifting some designers within this space?
  • Which of my designers may not always be exposed to horizontal mastery across products and might have the interest in having that exposure?
  • Are there any designers that aren’t received in the leadership or growth opportunities that they’re most interested in, and that a change in our staffing model could afford them?

In determining bandwidth for your designers

  • Talk to everyone on the team
    • Designer
    • Their Design Manager
    • The Product Manager
  • Use these conversations to assess how their bandwidth compares to the priorities

Who’s looking for a new career opportunity

  • See if there’s a gap in skills or a performance opportunity for someone that you could provide to the team

Who would be able to quickly ramp up on both the area of expertise and relationship building?

  • Expertise
    • Think about designers on my team that may have product and project experience that may have an interest in this space – help alleviate some of the ramp up time
  • Relationship
    • Who has the communication skills and emotional intelligence that can help in this phase of a new project ramp up?

Key Learnings – What went well and what didn’t