Articles · · 3 min read

The CDO School Design Leadership Playbook

The CDO School Design Leadership Playbook is disruptive to conventional design leadership wisdom. At CDO School, we are focused on helping you make design a more relevant, indispensable, and valued business unit at your company.

The CDO School Design Leadership Playbook

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, when Design is the Product, it’s essential you examine the Four Crucial Fits of Design inside a company.

But companies aren't static.

To get good at adapting to the constant change around you, it's important to remember that while you have the skills to adapt, it takes time, energy, and deliberate effort to move design forward despite the constant change around you.

This playbook is made specifically to do that.

Our Design Leadership Playbook has five repeating steps:

  1. Calculate your « fits »
  2. State your « position »
  3. Pick your « winners »
  4. Run your « plays »
  5. Judge your « progress »

Each step takes skills you likely already have and intentionally applies them in a new way. Here, we're focusing on practical, actionable ways to keep adapting.

Here's each step in more detail:

Step 1: Calculate your « fits »

If you know the concept of product-market fit, this is essentially how we approach Model-Practice Fit. It’s understanding how all the parts of a Design Practice (the processes, the culture, the people, the operations, etc.) fit within the business model. Why? Because you’re a professional design leader and you’ve been hired to help the business, It’s a transactional agreement.

We know many of you have been frustrated by your company's lack of progress in design maturity. You might have made some initial progress, but if that progress has slowed or worse, started to decline, we don’t want that for you.

Think of maturity like a puzzle. You have some pieces in place and big holes in others. Each time you reach this step, you should examine where you are with “four fits of design maturity.”

By calculating (and recalculating) where you are with the four fits, you’re ensuring that every other step of the playbook is helping you make design a more relevant and valued business unit at your company. That’s true design maturity.

Step 2: State your « position »

The second step is focused on clearly communicating the different and business-critical value the Design team provides compared to other teams. This is not about competition. This is about knowing the clear value you and your team provide and communicating that value in a language that your peers and colleagues understand.

Step 3: Pick multi-solving « winners »

This is perhaps the most challenging but most potent step in the playbook. Here, we’ll encourage you to pick winning tactics that give you every opportunity to make good design happen. Prioritizing is hard, especially when it means that some of your peers, stakeholders, and, yes, designers won’t be working on the most forward-thinking and advanced aspects of design.

Step 4: Run « plays »

Plays are the epitome of what we do here at CDO School. While our courses provide a lot of foundational skills in business, strategy, communication, leadership, operations, self-awareness, negotiations, personal development, measuring, etc., the reality is many of you are trying to impact multiple things at once. Our Plays are built to do just this.

In these Plays, we combine different skills thoughtfully and intentionally to help you tackle specific, real-world challenges. These are the Plays I’ve used throughout my career and the tips I always wished I had when I moved into leadership roles.

Step 5: Judge your « progress »

Our fifth and final step in the playbook is making judgment calls on whether or not your fits are on the right track. It’s remembering that you need to have some system in place to measure progress. That doesn’t necessarily mean quant metrics, though those will be helpful if you want more confidence in your judgement.

The Playbook is designed to be run quarterly, with a deeper dive done annually. Using this cadence, you’ll intentionally approach leading design like leading a product.

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