A Case Study in Design Operations

For many UX, design, or DesignOps teams — especially those actively attempting to grow or establish their presence, scale their influence, or increase their level of UX maturity — a formalized team mission statement can promote internal alignment and external recognition of the team’s focus and value within the larger organization. Even though having a shared mission is generally accepted as valuable,  generating a mission statement can feel a little abstract for teams unfamiliar with the process.

This article provides a practical, step-by-step guide for creating a mission statement using collaborative activities that lead teams through understanding what a mission is, defining the unique value of the team, and capturing that value in a memorable, succinct statement.

What Is a Team Mission Statement?

Definition: A team mission statement is a concise articulation of the core purpose of a team and the value that the team provides to the rest of the organization.

The concepts of a mission statement and a vision statement are often and easily conflated. We’ve previously discussed the difference between mission and vision within the context of an organization’s brand framework — and that differentiation is widely maintained for this context:

  • A vision statement is an aspirational statement that answers the question: What do we want to become in n years? Who do we aim to be in an aspirational yet reasonable amount of time?
  • A mission statement answers the question: What collective value do we generate now? What do we do as a group that helps realize that aspirational vision?

In other words, a mission statement captures who we are and how we provide value now; a vision statement captures what we want to become. Both should inform the overall UX or design strategy (the steps for achieving our vision) and be checked against our goals and objectives (metrics or indicators of how well we are achieving that vision).

Generally, vision statements are most useful at levels higher than individual teams. For example, an organization may have a company-wide vision statement or a product-wide vision, to which individual team mission statements align and which they support. However, vision statements can be useful for teams undergoing rapid growth or change or for teams attempting to promote drastic cultural shifts to maintain an aligned and steady momentum.

Graphic depicting mission, vision, strategy and goals as links in a chain, each leading to the next
A mission statement captures the value that a team currently provides and it should support the vision, strategy, and overall goals of an organization or cause.
Graphic depicting mission, vision, strategy and goals as links in a chain, each leading to the next
A mission statement captures the value that a team currently provides and it should support the vision, strategy, and overall goals of an organization or cause.

Writing a team mission statement is a useful activity for any team, especially when:

  • The team doesn’t have internal alignment about the value or services it provides to the rest of the organization.
  • Individual team members are unsure how to prioritize work requests and projects or are overwhelmed with a variety of types of work and feel a lack of focus.
  • The rest of the organization doesn’t understand the value provided by the team or individuals on the team aren’t sure how to express that value to external partners.
  • The team is at an inflection point of growth and wants to understand how to strategically add skills and roles.

The Process: How to Create a Team Mission Statement

Both vision statements and mission statements should be created collaboratively so that the entire team is rallied around and believes in the final output. The method outlined in this article, then,  includes the entire team. Because of the group activities and discussions involved, a strong facilitator is necessary to drive the process. (The facilitator can be a member of the team, provided that they can display objectivity in leading discussions and are trusted by other team members.)

Step 1: Introduce Mission Statements and Their Value

Don’t assume everyone is familiar with mission statements, even if the team is on board with creating one. (As previously discussed, this concept is often misunderstood.) Before jumping into the activity, align everybody on the definition and value of team mission statements.

You can start by sharing example mission statements from other teams to help everyone envision the desired outcome of the activity as clearly as possible.

If there are current challenges that led the team to this process, allow team members to express them and capture them in one place. One widely utilized, simple activity that can generate discussion is Start, Stop, Continue. In this activity, team members individually brainstorm things the team should stop doing on red sticky notes, things the team should start doing on green sticky notes, and things to continue doing on yellow sticky notes. You can follow this individual brainstorming step with a group postup, an affinity-diagramming exercise to cluster items into themes, and even a dot-voting exercise to understand which items are most important to the team.

Example start, stop, continue items: For start: Regular skills assessment, auditing and tracking work. Stop: Keeping research insights in PDF decks, wasting time in unrequited meetings, accepting last-minute requests. Continue: Prioritizing collaboration, investing in internal team training.
Start, Stop, Continue is a widely utilized brainstorming method to identify and discuss potential new beneficial activities or adjustments to existing activities and processes.

Step 2: Share Stories of Value

Grounded with a shared understanding of mission statements and having built alignment around activities on which the team wants to focus, the next step is to create and share stories of value. A story of value is a clear yet concise narrative that describes specific incidents when the team felt its value was realized. 

To generate stories of value, provide the following brainstorming prompt to the group: What does it look like when we deliver our full value? Small groups then break out to discuss and brainstorm responses. The responses can be real stories from the past or hypothetical stories if the group is nascent enough to not have a rich history yet. (The slight reframing of the prompt in this case would be: What would it look like when we deliver our full value?)

The more specific the responses, the better. It can help to provide some examples of responses. For example:

  • A potential story of value for a UX team: Last month, we held a research-engagement workshop with engineering and saw recommendations that met real user needs included in the next sprint.
  • A potential story of value for a DesignOps team: We conducted a survey to understand where our designers face roadblocks and were able to use the results to obtain a company-wide license for UserZoom to better support them.
A UX team seated around a conference table, brainstorming stories of value on index cards
An internal UX Center of Excellence team generates stories of value in order to discuss and better articulate their value to the organization.

In order to converge, small groups share their generated stories of value back to the larger group at the end of the brainstorming activity.

Step 3: Identify Critical Elements in the Stories of Value

After larger-group sharing, the group goes back to their smaller teams to identify critical elements within the stories of value they’ve captured. Instruct the teams to reread their individual stories and look for 3 components within the narratives:

  1. People or groups the team supported (These could be users, clients, or internal teams.)
  2. Actions they took and activities they did to provide that support
  3. Changes and results that happened because of their actions

This is best done in 3 separate rounds (one for each component type), using different methods of marking the identified components (e.g, highlighting, circling, underlining)  for each round.

Index cards containing stories of value generated by the team lying on a table
Example stories of values with people, activities, and results identified

For a practical example, consider the example story of value: Last month, we held a research-engagement workshop with engineering and saw recommendations included in the next sprint that met real user needs. 3 rounds would identify the following critical elements within this narrative:

  1. People or groups: engineering, users
  2. Actions and activities: Held a research-engagement workshop
  3. Results: Saw recommendations included in the next sprint, met real user needs
Framework for creating stories of value
Example process illustrating 3 rounds to identify people, actions, and results in this story of value

Step 4: Cluster the Identified Critical Elements

Finally, these identified elements can be abstracted. They are essentially the potential building blocks for creating a team mission statement. Teams pull out the identified words and phrases and house them on 3 separate boards (one per group/round). A nice approach is to break the team into 3 groups; each group has ownership over their respective category, creates the compiled board, and identifies and shares themes back to the larger group.

3 teams members standing in front of a poster on a wall, discussing their value elements
A small team captures and discusses all the elements identified across stories of value for the results category.

Step 5: Create Draft Mission Statements

After larger-group discussion of the themes within the 3 categories of critical elements, individuals generate potential mission statements. Set a time limit and allow individuals to create as many draft mission statements as they can or desire to within that timeframe. The team then shares individual mission statements and discusses the strengths and patterns among them.

Draft UX team missions statements written on pieces of paper spread over a conference room table
Individuals generate draft mission statements using themes identified within their stories of values.

What’s Next? Formalize the Mission Statement

After the individual draft mission statements are shared, the group can continue to refine the candidate mission statements into a single, formalized mission statement. One option is to nominate a lead (perhaps the facilitator) to work with the strengths and themes discussed and come up with some options for the team to vote on.

When writing a final mission statement, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Be concise: Between 10-15 words is ideal.
  • Keep it simple: Avoid overly verbose language.
  • Be specific: It should not apply to any other team or organization.
  • Say it out loud: Does it sound awkward? (Revise it.) Memorable? (Good.) Like a human would say it in a normal conversation? (Great.)

How to Use the Mission Statement

After the mission statement is formalized, don’t keep it locked away like a secret treasure. Use it as an everyday tool to:

  • Prioritize UX-team initiatives: Use the statement as a flag in the sand to prioritize competing initiatives and as a tool to discuss what the team can take on or which types of work best align to the fulfillment of the team mission.
  • Market the UX-team’s value: The final, formalized statement acts as a shared language and common, standardized “elevator pitch” for explaining the UX team’s value to the rest of the organization. With this tool, external partners, users, and leadership will hear a consistent message.
  • Strategically grow the UX team: Likewise, the statement and aligned actions will describe the team to new team members and ensure that the addition of new skills and roles aligns to the overall purpose of the team.

Sample UX Team Mission Statements

For fun, here are a few public current or past mission statements for UX, design, or DesignOps teams:

Provide agility to the whole product organization through centralized tools, systems and services that enhance speed and quality of execution. (Source: https://airbnb.design/designops-airbnb/)

Make work awesome, and make awesome work. (Source: https://medium.com/salesforce-ux/scaling-the-designops-summit-10e805bbdf2b)

Athena Health
Increase return on R&D investment and accelerate customer value delivery by providing systems that prevent unnecessary reinvention. (Source: https://medium.com/@jennifercardello/4afc4d43d5c3)

Home Depot
Help drive developer efficiency and UI consistency. (Source: https://www.invisionapp.com/inside-design/scaling-design-teams-att-hd/)

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