Setting up design for success in cross-functional teams



org design, agile & chaos management



design manager



product owners,
agile coaches,


In the first few years of Mimi's existence as a growing startup, the design function operated as a nuclear team, just like an internal micro-agency: each designer contributed to all products in the form of short projects.

Once the number of products have grown from 2 to 5, and the headcount from 20 to 40, product goals have become so intricate that it was time for the product organization to become truly objective-driven and multi-disciplinary. In other words, my challenge was to blend a collaborative design unit into a much larger cross-functional innovation machinery.


“Why split a well-oiled creative team apart?”

The product development community raves about the benefits of small cross-functional teams. In a growing organization, however, the drawbacks may quickly outweigh the perks, unless you constantly fine-tune. Yet, to prepare for a radical shift like SCRUM/Kanban, I needed to grasp the status quo and watch for symptoms.


  • transparent design process

  • continuity in ownership

  • timely heads-up on shifting delivery times

  • smoother dev–design communication

  • shorter iteration turnaround

  • in-depth problem solving


DESIGN PAINPOINTS after roll-out

  • no space for creative jamming

  • skipped or rushed user tests

  • need to be a generalist

  • inconsistent designs across teams

  • lost sense of belonging



Tactics applied to ease my team's painpoints while meeting stakeholder needs



“I want to collaborate and grow in my speciality."

Inspired by Cooper's method for thought partnership, we arranged ourselves in different pairs to find the best constellation of complementary skills to improve speed, quality, and self-fulfilment.



“I want to see what the other team is doing.”

To have a glanceable view of the entire design team's current workload, a "'horizontal’ JIRA board was set up based on Atlassian's recommendations.

Overview of multiple team's progress in one JIRA board.

Overview of multiple team's progress in one JIRA board.



“I want design to be the best team to work for.”

We foster trust and respect with regular sessions lightweight enough for the maker schedule. stand-ups, ideation sessions, critiques, one-on-ones and team outings.



“We need more time to ideate together.”

Setting the scene for explorative thinking is a matter of meticulous prep work and tight facilitation. I encourage all designers to practice every chance they get. ‘Design Scramble’, our version of an open sparring session happens weekly, often involving developers, researchers, and product managers.

Outcomes of a design sparring session with mobile developers

Outcomes of a design sparring session with mobile developers



“I want to do design properly, without cutting corners.”

Double diamond, UCD or 4D, the essence of any design process is the same, yet nailing down the semantics is incredibly meaningful: it makes you feel accountable, and helps you be transparent about your progress.

Each of us had a slightly different process, which were never externalized. In a process crafting workshop, we agreed on a specific flow of doing design, taking organizational needs into account.

Our process prior to the agile cross-functional team roll-out

Our process prior to the agile cross-functional team roll-out

Design process after the agile cross-functional team roll-out.

Design process after the agile cross-functional team roll-out.



  • Designers are actively involved in defining the brief.

  • Ideas come from collaboration.

  • Stakeholders get involved early and feel part of the solution.

  • QA engineers cross-check handover specifications.

  • The overall process uses the talent of other functions to make design successful.


In closing

There's no process improvement without active listening and grit to experiment on the textbook method. When the success metrics are clearly understood, getting buy-in is easier on each side, stakeholders and creators. Being transparent with other disciplines leads to higher trust in design.