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Design Systems, Change Management, and Governance
September 16, 2019 |

Design systems are becoming more important for businesses to drive value through their brand. As Customer Experience expectations become a key differentiator for brands, Design and brand consistency across an organization becomes crucial. Companies are seeing the benefits that design systems can offer in helping to scale their brands and understanding the return on investment .

Here at Phase2, we work with our clients to ensure they have the tools and the process to successfully implement and maintain a design system including change management and governance planning.

Often organizations invest in a design system, and spend weeks/months implementing the system, perfecting the design rules and thinking through the strategy. They take care of all the details and define how it should be used. But they still have some work to do to ensure the success of the design system.

With any digital tool, its success is dependent on the acceptance and understanding of the system by stakeholders and the maintenance plan that empowers your organization to continue to evolve the system over time. In order to get a return on investment for your design system, you will need to plan time and resources for change management and governance activities. 

Change Management: The Key to Success

Change Management is the approach to driving adoption and usage so initiatives deliver expected results and outcomes. Your initiatives will impact how individual people do their work. Resources and processes will need to change and adjust to the new system; job roles, workflows, reporting structures and behaviors will all need to adapt to this new way of doing things. Even if your new system is an improvement on the old one, all change is challenging and can lead to resistance.

Managing this change is critical for overall project success. Effectively leading people through this change will help eliminate risks such as:

  • New team members not being onboarded properly and therefore not using the tool or not using it properly
  • Stakeholders not understanding the value of the change, or the reason for ongoing investment
  • New designs not following component guidelines, resulting in an inconsistent brand experience, eroding trust with the audience

When this process is handled with care, internal stakeholders will feel a sense of ownership and excitement about this new system and the process changes that are coming instead of being fearful and resistant. A structured Change Management plan focuses on helping people adapt to these changes in how they do their job. 

A Governance Plan will help you give a clear consensus on the purpose and value of the Design System, and provide assigned responsibility to enforce process, communication, and workflow. It  presents opportunities to operationalize and enforce best practices across the organization and establish policy for maintenance, growth and usability. 

The objective of the Governance Plan is to provide roles, responsibilities, and processes that will guide the development, enhancements, and usage of the Design System. Solving for issues such as:

  • The design system becoming stagnant, or incorrect because no one is responsible to update the style guide and add or archive assets based on the evolving brand guidelines
  • Disjointed releases, causing confusion and inconsistency
  • Variations of code introduced into the brand, hurting consistency and adding work for developers and designers

A Governance Plan crosses all organizational layers, including stakeholders, administration, maintenance, strategy, policy and support, and of course brand/design teams. It’s about implementing structure around how the various groups in the business work together to ensure that they stay on track to achieve their strategic goals.

Successful Rollout

Ensuring a smooth transition is critical for organization-wide adoption and to have the rollout of a design system progress smoothly. Successful change management and governance requires planning, communication, listening, training, and monitoring.

There are a number of strategies for successfully communicating and rolling out the plans.

Establish a Communication Plan 

  1. Tailor initiatives for each group involved, to discuss the value and benefits of the Design System.
  2. Educate all teams involved on how the Design System will impact various roles in the organization.
  3. Educate the organization on the Design System and the Governance Model that best fits the organization’s culture.
  4. Provide regular updates to stakeholders, set expectations and prepare people for the change.

Feedback Sessions

  1. Solicit and record feedback and circle back to show the organization how their feedback is being incorporated.
  2. Establish an ongoing, structured, visible method of collecting - and acting on - future feedback.

Ongoing communication

  1. Provide ongoing internal communication of the maintenance process for the design system.


The bottom line is, to have a successful Design System you need to make Change Management and Governance part of your configuration and rollout strategy. Investing time and energy to manage these efforts pays off in the end and helps you meet your KPIs by avoiding the debt of not having stakeholder and user involvement.


Sophia is a Senior Digital Strategy Consultant with extensive (over 20 years) agency experience in customer-driven product innovation. She is successful at delivering solutions that drive business objectives, solve user issues, build trusted relationships, and effectively manage cross-functional teams.

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