Every scrum team seems to have dedicated software engineers — people who write code only for that team. Most of these scrum teams have dedicated product owners or product managers as well. However, when it comes to designers the common practice, despite years of advice to the contrary, is to get them to cover as many scrum teams as they can. Designers I’ve met over the last decade are covering, at a minimum, two teams’ worth of design work and in the worst cases, aren’t dedicated to any team at all but instead work as an internal agency, doing whatever low hanging design task any team needs that day.
Here’s why this is a problem:
Context switching costs
It’s easy to believe that a designer (or anyone really) can easily switch between one team’s initiative and another without hesitation. This is blatantly wrong. Each time a designer has to switch from one team to another there is a minimum of 23 minutes of time to ramp up to the new initiative and a proven lack of overall productivity of nearly 40%.
Team dependency delays
It’s easy to assume that while the designer is off supporting another team, the other team(s) they support can move on with their work. The reality is that there are inevitable dependencies on the design work that person was going to do. Teams are left sitting around waiting for their designer to come back keeping user stories in limbo or in progress until the designer can focus back on their team. The worst case result here is that the team moves forward without the design work or farms it out to someone less skilled than the actual designer hired to do that work.
Designers caught between a rock and a hard place
This one is the worst casualty of not having dedicated designers on your scrum team. Let’s assume that a designer is covering three scrum teams. Every day that designer has to come to work and decide which two of the three teams she supports she’s going to piss off that day. Each of those teams has number one priorities but the designer can only work on one thing at a time. By distributing the designer’s focus across three teams they are now in the unfortunate position of disappointing their colleagues on a daily basis. How long do you think they’ll stick around if that’s the nature of their day-to-day interaction with their teams?
Design work — user experience, interaction, visual, copy writing, content strategy, information architecture, research, discovery all of it — is part of The Work of producing high quality digital products and services. We have a huge number of highly qualified folks ready to do this work. If it’s a priority at your company, hire enough designers to support each and every scrum team. Not only will your designers thank you, but your developers, product managers and customers will too.