Design leadership – Operation

Honey operations

Honey started to have its most hyper-growth since 2019. With more ppl joining, staying scrappy, and breaking things were still sometimes valuable. On the other hand, the cost of NOT organizing was surging. We were in desperate need of standard processes to show us how to be aligned yet autonomous.


1. Product Development Process Map

The team was still having multiple processes after the transition from Lean UX to Design Thinking. As a result, we started to have the wrong investment. Either too little in high importance project or the opposite. We needed a map to know When, What, and Who while working together.

The Problem
The Design and Product are lacking a standard working manual on telling us when to do what.
The impact
More alignment after standardization. All projects start to have the right investment and proper reviews. Aligned autonomy.


I hold multiple listening sessions to understand all different styles of processes internally, from design/eng/product. I also studied what's out there externally(Lean UX, Design Thinking...). Then reviewed it across, up, and down.


In the end, we decided to modify the "double diamond" design thinking model to our own needs.

Honey operations
Honey operations

Artifacts populated along the flow below:

  • Hypothesize
  • ~Business Goals
  • ~Customer Goals
  • ~Tech Constraints
  • Research
  • ~Survey Question List
  • ~User Interview Kits
  • ~Impact Mapping
  • ~User Archetypes
  • ~Competitors Analysis (SWOT)
  • Define
  • ~Problem Statement
  • ~Journey Map
  • Ideate
  • ~IA template
  • ~Flow template
  • ~Wire template
  • Validate
  • ~Rapid User Testing Kits (UserZoom)


Due to the time limit, I only involved Eng and Product. More partners like analytics, QA, content strategy, marketing should be invited into the next iterations.


2. Project Management - Jira

As the team grows, the scrappy way of tasking and tracking everything via Slack was no longer scalable. Tons of project management tools were out there. We chose Jira to save cost and have Product/Eng continuity. Additionally, how might we also bake the Product Development Process Map above into Jira?

The Problem
No project tracking within our design team and between us and our product & eng partners.
The impact
Faster team speed. More Honey Design transparency. No gap between the product and eng.

Jira, as a more engineer and product friendly tool, how should a design team use it? There were 2 needs based on the hybrid team structure we had then:

  • Design task management in Design Org: Honey Design needed one place to see what everyone is working and which stage they are at.
  • Design task management in Feature Team: Designers needed their own places to communicate with their feature team partners.
Honey operations

At first, I set up the Jira board for our Design Org.

  • Each kanban board on the sidebar stands for a specific design vertical within the org. For example, we had verticals from Design System to Product Copy (Content Strategy team)
  • The vertical column is mapping each stage we set up in the Product Development Process, namely the Strategy > Skeleton > Detail.
  • The horizontal swimlanes are defined based on each team's needs. Some teams are using Designers, while some are using Feature Teams.
Honey operations

Secondly, I wrote Jira Query Language to mirror the board in Design Org to the distribute Feature Team.

  • The design board exits together with our partners, like the Eng board, QA board, Analytics board...
  • Due to the JQL linkage, whatever our designers move in the Feature Team will be mirrored to the Design Org.
Honey operations

The rest of the Jira artifacts, such as 'Issue template', 'Different issue types based on our different verticals', and 'Jira workflow'.

Honey operations

3. Quarterly Planning

Honey has been planning annually and quarterly for years. Our design team has been excluded. As a result, we ended up overwhelmed and underappreciated, together with lots of last-minute requests and mediocre design quality. Most of the design team members surfaced this issue to their PMs, unfortunately, the bottom-up approach was not effective. When I stepped into the Head of Design role, this issue became one of my top priorities. So we can solve it from a top-down approach.

The Problem
HMW influence business strategy more and have more control of our time and work quality?
The impact
Better planning. Less burnout. No desperate hiring. Better quality and more credits earned.

I also realized how important sometimes the title can be, especially for managers & leaders. As long as I brought it up during my sync with the product & eng head with the proper rationales, they instantly agreed with my point and offered to help. We were on a promising start with the strong support from product & eng leadership.

But how should we participate in the quarterly planning? The articles out there were mainly for engineers and product managers. Only a few about 'UX road-mapping, but mostly on annually basis. I was left with only 2 choices: 1). Study how eng & pm plan. 2). Study our current and past pains.

Top findings and my thinkings below:

  • Product managers used to kickoff planning 1 month ahead. With design joining, the timeline needs to be pushed more forward, so that we have enough time to fund the engineering work.
  • Design initiatives varied with some needing research while others don't. For those needing research, we need to bake research time into planning, which will push the timeline even more forward.
  • Some teams tended to plan design way much ahead, like half a year. As a hyper-growth startup, we were seeing changes every single day. What we planned so much ahead might be easily out-valued by new trends/tech. We really needed the balance between no planning and over-planning.

The proposed timeline with the Design joining:

Honey operations

A few things to call out:

  • Design started to have 2 months ahead of eng works for each quarter.
  • Design started non-stop researching.
  • Design started to have 2 months to hire if product asks surge.
  • ~Later I realized hiring should be planned on an annual basis.
  • Eng started to have at least 1 month of funded work before each quarter.
  • Product started to kickstart planning in sync with design.

Just like how the Product planned in one place and then demoed to the entire company. We started to use Miro as our single source of truth to plan and then to communicate to everyone within Honey Design.

Honey operations

4. Weekly Rituals

The team has grown to the point where it was too big to run rituals together. We need to break it down into smaller pieces with aligned guidelines. So, each line manager could run it within its own design vertical. COVID was happening, it's needed more than ever.

The Problem
HMW comes up with standardized weekly rituals to ensure the team stays connected, inspired, and makes progress in projects?
The impact
Morale boosted. Feeling more connected, inspired. Making progress in projects and gaining more visibility in what others are doing.

After lots of listening sessions with my designers, design managers, and feature team peers, we came up with the weekly rituals plan as below:

Honey operations

Couple of things to call out:

  • Each design vertical started to have its own ritual to maintain lean and fast. We had 5 major verticals at that time: Shopping Tools, Native Shopping, Product Growth, Checkout, and Merchant Exp. Each had at most 5 to 6 designers.
  • We kept org-wide rituals, but fewer. So designers could still gain visibility from other verticals and design leadership, and of course, have fun together in a larger group.
  • We made feature team rituals optional. Through chatting, I found the value of everyday standup and other feature team meetings like planning with points system and demo was really not adding too much value. After the change, they were still on the calendar, but designers had more priority on Design Org.
  • I also moved all my 1:1 into the beginning of the week, where my energy was at peak level. It also cut down my context switching drastically.

Last but not least, everything was documented within Notion, from 1:1 to Monthly All Hands. Below is an example of how we run Weekly Warm-up in Notion.

Honey operations

5. Others

  • Onboarding
  • ~Summary: Streamlined our design onboarding process.
  • ~Impact: All new hires felt welcomed and highly instructional once onboarded.
  • Figma Org Restructure
  • ~Summary: Reorganized our Figma files for better findability.
  • ~Impact: Honey Design started to manage Figma files in scale. Partners like prod&eng can find the right files easily.
  • Notion Team Wiki Setup
  • ~Summary: Organized everything regarding Honey Design into a single place. From onboarding to principles to career- developing...
  • ~Impact: Everyone knows where to find what in a way much quicker way.
  • And More...
More Works