Generalist in a 4000 person org?!

What its like to be a Design Operations Strategist

Six years ago, and many, many years too late, I had an ‘aha’ moment in my career.

I am a generalist 💡 

At the time, I was at a crossroads — ready to move on from a role I’d been at for longer than I should have, and applying to roles across a vast spectrum of titles and responsibilities. It took me some time to narrow my excitement and focus on roles I’d be most effective at, and eventually, I landed an incredible role at a small firm where I flexed all my skills and learned something new daily.

Eventually, I wondered what was next - how could I continue growing? Where can I provide the most value? What type of organisation would value what I offer?

For most generalists, the answers to these questions land in the realm of startup, entrepreneurship, or some variation of the two. Unfortunately, the standard is that most large, established companies focus on specialists when hiring - and understandably so.

They’ve built up an organisational structure with departmental silos - teams of experts working on their own goals, with an occasional Hail Mary cross-functional task or meeting. However, it is possible to flex generalist strengths if you land in the right role at one of these companies, and one of those roles is Operations.

Here’s a little background 👉️ 

There are many flavours of Ops, and they’re different depending on the organisation's needs.

For the last year, I’ve worked as a Design Operations Strategist for a SAAS org of about 4,000 people. I’m part of the product design ‘silo,’ working deep within our department but also collaborating cross-functionally across product, engineering, and other teams - doing that generalist “connect-the-dots” thing we love to do.

Design Operations is a fairly new field that mostly exists in larger organisations with a substantial design department - our design team is around 75 people (yes, large startup size!). It’s usually in a tech-related field, but there are also variations of Creative Operations in more traditional industries.

So, what are the differences?

The responsibilities are different in every incarnation of the role and can range from hiring and budgets to learning and development for designers and anything else leadership needs taken care of. 

In some tech companies, Design Operations teams partner with Engineer Operations and Product Operations. While Design Ops dives a bit deep into design, Engineering Ops and Product Ops both dive into their respective verticals.

In some smaller orgs, these three roles could be done by one group (or even one person), allowing for work that spans multiple vertices and teams.   

What my current role looks like:

I have taken on various responsibilities that include improving team culture, setting up project management systems, implementing change management strategies across different divisions, facilitating workshops, standardising workflow processes, and identifying ways to improve the work environment for our designers. 

Additionally, our team partners with product and engineering operations to standardise ways of working across a division of over 700 individuals. In the coming months, I’ll oversee the design of courses that would help our team members enhance their skills, partnering in creating division roadmaps, and assisting in coordinating metrics and reporting for the leadership.

Sounds pretty general, doesn’t it?

Startup VS Large Organisations

Now it’s certainly not as wide-spectrum as what I might do at a startup. Things like marketing, customer service, data analytics, and high-level strategy are owned by individuals with deeper expertise than myself.


These are the tradeoffs for being in an enterprise organisation - but on the flip side, there is also stability, resources, and team members that are harder to find at a startup.

I don’t come from an operations background, but I do have extensive experience in design, strategy, and project management. That experience provides me with the deep toolkit necessary to tackle the wide range of responsibilities I’m tasked with on a daily basis - can we call that success for a generalist?!

Keen to learn more?

If you’re interested in learning more about design operations, there’s a wealth of resources out there to get you started. Design Ops Assembly is a global community of practitioners (or those looking to enter the field)  - including a Slack board, courses, and other events.

Rosenfeld also has a strong Design Ops community and conferences and other events. There are countless blogs, podcasts, and webinars as well - DOA has an incredible resource page with links, though it’s not the only one.

Feel free to start digging in and connect with folks in the field. It’s how I started, and I learned quite a bit by doing research and attending events. 

There are so many avenues for generalists to thrive in our journeys. While we also have our version of ‘traditional’ career fields, keeping an open mind and finding success in areas outside the ‘norm’ of small organisations and start-ups is possible.

We can provide value, connect the dots, and just be our awesome selves in enterprise environments as well!

Meet the Author - Lucy Nersesian

Lucy is an accomplished senior creative leader and strategist with 15+ years of diverse experience in areas of design, digital transformation, and program management.

She’s also one of the founding members of the Generalist World community.

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