Get big, go deep – or go home

I’ve had an interesting run over the past few weeks. I’ve been spending more time out of the studio doing strategy stuff. Which means I’ve had the chance to speak to a whole range of people in and around service design. What I’ve picked up is a consensus that service design is reaching a tipping point – that the industry has an 18 month window to do something – to make the case, land it and grow from there – or to fade into hubris and lost potential. I’ve been feeling like this for a while, so it’s nice that the ante is being upped. But worth getting into the anatomy of this opportunity – thus a blog post.

Why a tipping point and why now?

A few things have come together recently:

  1. Government Digital Service – basically a design studio wrapped in a digital money saving business case – has demonstrated that design has a role to play in even the most traditional of organisations. Not only is there a forceful design studio in there of excitable designers seeking to change the world in a nimble/agile way, but there’s a Transformation Team of dyed-in-the-wool civil servants soberly connecting the deeper elements, and negotiating in the trenches with the grubby back end
  2. My own organisation is seeking to step up its intentions around service design. After a few years now of tactical success, we’ve proved the business case. I have clients who are asking for similar input. So people want more – more breadth and more depth. They want to talk about operational change – they want us to help them rethink how their organisations are plumbed, so they can be more customer-centred
  3. Other organisations are taking design more seriously. Barclays have just put a Chief Design Officer on the board. Accenture bought Fjord etc

What is going on?

I think senior leaders – the people who hold the big purse strings around organisational change – are finally being converted to Service Design. We’ve been in an elongated pilot phase. Every agency and lots of clients can point to game changing projects that have step changed organisations. Well – I think that finally the game has changed, the step has been taken. We’re no longer a substitute brought on for an occasional turn. We’re now on the field. This is great news, but being on the field brings its own challenges – which is what this post it really about. 

Dom Campbell at Futuregov wrote a great post called Go Big or Go Home. Go and read it. It echoes my feeling. I’d just like to extend it a bit – it’s not just about big design – ie broad application across large scale services like local government or telcos. It’s also about going deep – penetrating the innards of the organisation to make change happen. Now this is interesting, because many designers just don’t seem to see that as their job. They design, they generate ideas, they create collateral, and they pass it over – even if it’s an agile handover that is very seamless. They still hand it over. But to who? This is why we need to ‘go deep’. Let me break it out.

  1. Get out of the studio – the studio is a nice place to be. They play music there, and where flip flops. Get out of this comfort zone. You need to spend more time with the Learning and Development team understanding how to change staff behaviours. You need to understand how a commercial model for a transformation programme works. You need to sit with the IT guys and understand what data latency means. 
  2. Compromise – I wear a suit and tie every day. Only yesterday I had to explain to a senior colleague what Kickstarter was. We all need to stretch further towards those we’re trying to convert. We need to swallow our pride, be the bigger man/woman and suck up the short term “eugh, suit!’ thing. We need to be prepared to lose battles, forfeit ground, in order to win this war
  3. Challenge ourselves – we need to stop patting ourselves on the back that we’re the next big thing, riding high on the hype wave, with lovely projects and beautiful collateral. I was challenged the other day by someone that ‘service design fizzles out’. And they’re right. We are now more ‘the thing’ rather than ‘the next big thing’. Organisations are giving us the time of day – but they need to see that we can run broader and deeper. That’s the 18 month window we have.

My proposals:

  1. We need a joined up coherent campaign to tell the market that ‘this is what we do’. We’re out of pilot phase, we are prepared to go broad and deep. The campaign needs to be agile – it needs to not take 18 months to get it’s act together. Luckily the Design Council seem to be shaping this one up.
  2. We need to propose how we should fit into big organisations, splitting out the two big things we do: a) achieving multichannel customer service excellence, and b) delivering ongoing service innovation on the other. These are different skills so we should classify them as such. It’ll make it easier for others ‘to get’.
  3. And we need to reach a rapid consensus on the usual suspects – better evidence, neater proposition, improved talent market etc. Though my belief is that if we crack 1 and 2 we will be compelled to do 3. The reason 3 hasn’t happened is that we haven’t been forced to make tough decisions in the face of tough deadlines. Let’s let necessity be the mother of intent. Too many academics have spent too much time on 3 – it’s a MacGuffin. We need 1 and 2, then we’ll get 3 as a bi-product

And if we don’t do something?

Well we end up missing our boat, like Systems Thinking. Still around and doing good tactical things, but never really lived up to it’s hype and largely descended now into hubris. Service Design is not the answer – but it could be. Betamax was the answer wasn’t it? As Geoff Mulgan said at a meeting at the Design Council last week, Service Design exists in a very competitive environment. It is up to us to come together and land this opportunity in the next 18 months. We need to collectively tool up – get big, go deep or go home.

Embedding service design in a big organisation

The shift to embedded service design.


In the recent Restarting Britain report that I helped put together, we discussed different ways that organisations could bring service design to bear.

I’ve experience working in or with almost all of the models presented. But for me the embedded one is the most interesting as it’s where I believe most organisations are maturing to. In many cases we’re seeing organisation leave the agency-led era, where external facilitators have proved service design in small to medium-size ways, and commissioners are now seeking to scale its application in larger ways. Achieving this requires an internal design workhorse – a team of people spending dedicated time service designing within the organisation.

But what shape should this embedded team take?

Often it’s the case that many supporting elements exist – research, BI, MI, UX teams etc – but they aren’t bound into a whole. I was speaking to a client just the other day who asked me what an ideal greenfield Voice of the Customer team would look like. I love the intent of this question as it shows that design leaders are being asked about the future (significant), but the form of the question is wrong. For me it’s about binding qual and quant insight into a design led decision making function – which can apply that decision making at short, medium and long term cycles. For instance – tailoring live multichannel contact points, monthly redesigns of top tasks ‘in beta’, and annual innovations of the future operating model. We need to leave old models like VOC behind and wake up (or wake up our clients) to the opportunity of holistic, strategic service design within organisations.

So how do you best bundle them? And what steps should you take to bundling them up?

A case study.

The Government Digital Service is “a new team within Cabinet Office tasked with transforming government digital services.” I’m not that close to what they do, so I’m reading this case study from a distance via conversations, journalism and hearsay. My guess is that GDS was perhaps originally positioned as an agency, with a roving government brief – nothing too threatening, people didn’t have to buy them, and so they avoided ruffling civil service feathers (a standard critical success factor in most public sector projects). So this gave them a chance to wrestle some early projects, build credibility and thus develop a head of steam. But as the business case for design in government became clearer, they changed their footing. I’m not sure when it happened, but they became a mandated ‘fact of life’ for most departments and NDPBs. What’s remarkable is that this has happened to the extent that their design-led philosophy is now embedded in government and is becoming part of the DNA / fabric. I for one very much look forward to seeing what happens as a result. I’ve been taking a number of projects on a similar journey – from early ‘following our nose’ agency-style projects, through to tactical/guerilla change programmes, and on to setting up embedded service design teams. I see other case studies like this all around.

(Interesting aside: why is it not the Government Design Service or the Government Customer Experience Service? Most likely because digital is all about channel shift, which is all about reducing costs, which is all about everything in government right now! But I can see a point in time in the future where Digital will get dropped / replaced. Particularly if the Number 10 / Cabinet Office push on service design grows legs)

So what are the ingredients of an embedded team?

  • Dedicated resource – agencies move in and out of the organisation, being drawn on to deliver tactical work. You need a dedicated resource to run embedded work. And I don’t mean two people who basically manage agency work – I mean a team of people who live and breath the strategic challenge of the organisation
  • Diplomatic skills – agencies don’t have to be diplomatic – they are commissioned to do the work by someone who has done all the business case smoothign and chaping for them. But the embedded team need to be politically minded to survive the big corporate structures. Many technically adept serviced designers have failed to scale their offer because they overly rely on the “service design flag of intuitive brilliance”. Remember – people don’t care about service design. Work out what they care about and latch service design onto that. 
  • Clear methodology – this one is a bit yawn-y but important. Method makes most people’s eyes roll, but what I mean here is that you need a logical spine onto which you can latch your work (see previous point). Otherwise you will be dancing a different dance to every buyer. Some basic principles, a flow of work, that people can ‘buy’ in easy chunks.
  • Clear benefits / metrics – service design competes with lean, systems thinking, business process re-engineering etc. You will need a business case that is stronger than theirs. Stronger because people will buy the weaker business case they know, than the stronger business case they don’t know. Get early clarification on what the big measures are – NPS or Customer Effort? And how these trade off against more traditional sacred cow measures such as AHT? You need to fit into what is measured, as that it what is worked on.
  • Ways in – you will need to spend time networking. Usually this scares the design ponies as lots of designers do their work ‘in a corner’. But plenty of service designers are all about engaging in co-design and co-creation so this fear is removed. Good – because you need networks, conversation starters, watering holes to communicate the “bloody difficult business proposition that is service design”. This stuff takes time to land and connect into people’s brains.
  • Champions / evangelists – probably the biggest one. You need people to make the initial connections happen – people to provide air cover, people to knock heads together occasionally, people who believe in service design. At GDS it has been Martha, Mike and Francis (I don’t know these people, but their first names sound so great in a row like that!). I have had people do it for me. I look forward to doing it for others.
  • Story telling – once you get underway you need to be continually story telling – broadcasting the good work and success stories around the business to build that head of steam. The stories are the things that travel and give people reasons to seek you out. If you do your job properly these will just emerge – people will want to talk about it. That’s what service design does when it becomes embedded 

So if that’s the list, then how do you make the move to embedded?

  • Earn your stripes. Develop some case studies. Make some progress. These are the things you will want to leverage and scale
  • Create a shopping list. What do you need to become embedded? See the list above.
  • Pitch it. Find a willing buyer / corporate sponsor who will not only willingly listen to your pitch, but has the clout to do something about it

I am very keen to see more GDS stories of embedded service design from around the world, so get in touch if you have any personal experiences to share. Thanks

European House of Design Management

I attended a one day workshop to expplore what a Design Management toolkit might look like and how it might help public sector orgs in Europe. It was organised by the DBA in partnership with Danish Designers, on behalf of the EU. Thought I’d capture my thoughts.

The exercise felt a bit constrained by the way the initiative was procured. The team had obviously had to rapidly find a hypothesis with reference points, which we as a group then rapidly dismantled. The models felt a bit old, dusty and out of step. But that’s by-the-by. It triggered the right level of debate, and the message was given and taken in good grace and I think there’s plans to take a design approach to the next stages.

What was interesting was the intersection of practice in the room. Design was there in many different forms: design managers, design leaders, design academics, service designers, public sector design enthusiasts – all sorts. I was struck by the route Design Management had taken from product, industrual and architecural routes, which made me feel a bit out of place, given I’ve come up through the digital UX route. This was a bit evident in discussions with me banging on a bit about how new methods like Lean Startup and Agile UX were conspicuous in their absence. Also the CX work coming from Bruce Temkin and CXPA. If we want a toolkit in 3 years that feels fresh, then it needs to be taking into account latest practice now!

Having slept on it, I guess my big hopes are:

  1. An accredited design toolkit – so clients know what they are buying, get a degree of predictability in method and thus reduces overall risk of the purchase of design. Makes it easier for us to sell it. Something like what architects have evolved.
  2. A route map that takes the reader from the steps: “what could we do”, “what should we do”, to “what can we do”, “what will we do”, with a parallel stream of “how should we do it”. Adopting strategic design into an organisation needs to be pitched as a bit of an adventure as it changes the way the organisation works – as evidenced by the Roca case study we were presented with by Raymond Turner, which echoed my own experience with my own clients.
  3. A set of tools aimed at leaders (how do I envision and engage), managers (how do I change direction and drive through) and frontline staff (how do I become a designer and keep designing) – to help each group to handle the change on their own terms. Each will face very different challenges through stages of transition
  4. A community for leaders (definitely) and managers (maybe at a later stage) to help them build understanding and confidence – hear from others, learn from their mistakes, seek advice from peers.
  5. Language, tone of voice, pitch – Confidence is the major stumbling block here. Risk is the watchword in all this – the public sector hates it, but embracing it will help it survive. The relentless pitch to these guys needs to be “innovate to save. execute to survive” – design needs to be positioned as a low cost route to considerable savings, whilst also delivering better outcomes for staff and customers. We need to be clear that this is at the heart of the Design Management offer. We also need to make sure this doesn’t devolve into a dry EU toolkit. It needs to retain all the appealing and human ‘colour’ of design – the creativitiy and inspiration – the focus on storytelling, imaginatoin and drawing that we know often mark the turning points of projects. These things need to be embedded into the output and the way it is distributed.

Finally a note of concern about the 3 year timescale. Please please please can we not wait until then to deliver a perfectly form but hopelessly out of date toolkit? Can we instead borrow from the latest in design (Lean Startup and Agile) to reach a Minimum Viable Product in the next few months. Get that basic toolkit out there in the public domain, being used by a beta group and – crucially – failing to work, so we can quickly improve it again and again. The energy in the room yesterday will lend itself well to that way of working. 

Service Design Network Conference 2009

IMG_0611I toyed with calling this “Helping clients see their organisation as their customers do” – as that was my best takeaway from an interesting conference. I had a great time in Madeira. The sun shone, the many swimming pools sparkled against the ocean and the hotel was sufficiently plush to warrant the flight. I thought I’d summarise my initial thoughts and reflections here.

Joe Heapy of Engine

The show opened with Joe Heapy talking us through some interesting case studies, and overcoming some technical problems that were to stick around for the whole two days. I was particularly intrigued by the Barnet Council example. Having heard about it first at Service Design Thinks, it was great to hear more. Just the sort of thing I’m looking at.

I’ll be honest and say I was pretty mystified by Live Work’s presentation on their work with the UN. It sounded interesting, but acoustics and accents got the better of me and I just couldn’t get a handle on it.

Similarly we had an interesting sounding, though also hard to follow, insight into what T Mobile have been doing in this space. As well as the acoustic/accent challenge, I felt they fell into the trap of talking about high level method too much – leading to a pretty generic set of conclusions. There was a bit too much of this over the two days, and not enough drilling into the detail of what works, what doesn’t and why.

Jesse James Garrett of Adaptive PathJesse James Garrett was a bit of a surprise speaker. Great to be taken back to the days when I had his books on my desk. Seems he’s had a similar journey into services, though still with a focus on the user experience – which he applied here to the wider scope of services. Not much evidence of how that method could be applied to more complex service systems, but a refreshing reminder of some of the principles.

The afternoon workshops were pretty diverse. I attended a presentation on Carnegie Mellon’s work with the Mayo Clinic, which felt like a deja vu of a similar presentation at last year’s conference. Followed by “Co-creation sucks!” a flamboyant and welcom dose of energy. It basically explored the misuse of co-design in the world. All good and interesting but for me it went a bit far down the purist route, almost concluding that any designer involvement would skew the findings. Sadly, the reality of time and budget constraints mean that the designer has to intercede to help the group reach a conclusive point. That’s the thing about democracy – it’s the art of getting everyone involved AND reaching a conclusion. Great animated workshop though. And another great takeaway – “agree to disagree rather than consensus.”

IMG_0626Day one closed with an interesting insight into service design 20 years from now. Some great pie charts demonstrated that, compared to other sectors like construction design and manufacturing design, there should be 300,000+ service designers in business. Of course there aren’t, because most service businesses are served by a medley of professions, not least management consultants. It was an tempting argument for manifest destiny – although we’re nowhere near claiming anyright to the sector. The presentation went on to explore whether service design should become a profession and so provide a clear articulation of our role. I don’t even think 10 years is realistic for that. We need to agree a clear value and approach, be regarded as a coherent discipline, before we can start broadcasting it – and certainly before we can claim a privileged position.

In the evening we all got bussed up the mountain to a traditional Madeiran restaurant where we drank some local brew and watched some locals dance. The food – great skewers of chargrilled stake hanging in the middle of the table – was great and it was good to drink my way through a few more rambling service design discussions. Had to keep reminding myself how lucky I am that Europeans invest so much on learning English.

Day two opened with an interesting project from Birgit Mager. Some interesting material, although the focus on change management perhaps stretched the role of service design. I was more interested in how the change was managed through the city bureacracy.

We the heard from Continuum with a very polished presentation around using employee motivation to ensure your staff are the ambassadors your service business needs. Though this strayed into well-trod HR territory, it provided some good insight, used some great case studies and was pretty energising.

engine2In the afternoon I attended a workshop run by Engine, covering “Selling Service Design”. Unsurprisingly it was heavily oversubscribed with lots of people showing up. The guys did a great job of facilitating the session, with six good explorations covering different approaches/challenges. Ours was selling service design to a company that didn’t recognise service design or know how to buy it. We opted to sell service design to a utility company – assuming that their current heavy investment in staff and customer churn could be better directed to improving services.

engineThe six approaches fell into roughly two camps – external and internal. The former groups settled on the following type of approach – identify the client’s problem, give an evidence based opinion, illustrate how it will be fixed and then demonstrate it on a small scale (“Clients don’t buy elephants” was a good quote). The second cluster of groups focused on selling SD internally – evangelise, gather followers, create a task force, pick your projects, build momentum. Informative and fun. The guys said they’d post the six mini-projects to their site so will have to keep an eye out.

engine 3Unfortunately I missed the end of the conference as I had to catch a flight, but I found myself mulling it over during the journey. I was left wondering whether we’d moved on very far from last year. I know for a fact that one of the workshop presentations was a repeat case study from last year, which is pretty lame. But can you blame the conference for not moving forward when the industry has struggled with a tricky year? I got to thinking what I’d want from a conference next year. Here’s my wishlist:

  • We’ll be big enough to draw a major keynote speaker – a design advocate from a prominent organisation. Someone like Richard Branson who just gets the importance of good service.
  • Speakers will come from related industries eg HR, change management, product design etc. This will help inform the industry and also define our scope. As designers, we’re too happy reinventing wheels.
  • Clients will come in to talk about their experiences procuring and implementing SD projects. They’ll give a great inside-out view.
  • They’ll be more opportunity for open dialogue eg panel discussions with questions from the floor
  • People will focus on aspects of what they did, to provide focus and diversity of view, rather than the whole process of how they did it, which ends up feeling generic.
  • People will be comfortable discussing failures, as a focus on perpetual success ends up feeling like a polished pitch
  • The conference will loosen up a bit. It’ll feel more intimate and energised. Smaller main room, more time allowed for questions, more intimate compeering.
  • Cities will collaborate and host workshops. This will bring together local communities / chapters in advance and also draw out diversity of approach.
  • We’ll have a facility to sustain debate after the conference. The twiter hashtag is still being used. Maybe a Ning site would be good too. People will be able to see a profile of other delegates and contact them / follow them. I lost half my business cards along the way.
  • The technology will work seamlessly
  • There will be as much sun and even better food. Madeira set a high standard.
  • It’ll be in the UK

America and Britain

Why is it that in America, where service expectations run so high and where people complain in an instant over bad service, they have no real service design industry to speak of? Whilst in the UK, where people will traditionally suffer in silence before complaining, we have a burgeoning little service design sector?

Hypothesis 1: the US have other techniques for engineering good service, less reliant on design thinking

Hypothesis 2: US service expectations have been invading the UK for years, leading to a greater demand for good services and reduced fear to complain when they are bad.

Hypothesis 3: it’s all about government funding, and right now the UK government is banging on about customer-centred public services, hospitals having to measure patient happiness and seeking out sexy techniques to help.

I’d be interested in the views of others in this.