To lead change in service design, choose your line
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To lead change in service design, choose your line

Every skier knows that, before you push off the top of the mountain down that black run, you need to first choose your line.

You look down the mountain and determine the gradient of the slope, the location of rocks and trees, and the dangerous learner traversing wildly across piste. The goal being to have in your head a clear line of sight to your destination, with the fewest obstacles in the way, whilst taking in all that lovely virgin snow en route. Skiers will tell you how they do this best when in the zone – when in an instant they can see that line and take it without a second thought. This is what you need to do in your organization if you want your service design to see the light of day.

Your obstacles are different but just as numerous – legacy IT, corporate naysayers, endless governance committees, bureaucracy. Unless you chart a course through it, you and your design project could end up on a stretcher being gracelessly airlifted off the mountain. So let’s look at the different lines you can take.

The Scattergun

Livework have enjoyed a long working relationship with a large international insurer. They developed a strategic objective for extreme customer orientation, which involved committing the organisation to a broad set of customer-centred service principles, which were then followed up by over 100 changes. This led to ‘a rising tide which lifted all the boats’. Though be careful; a major obstacle here will likely be the strategy team who may label your approach ‘spray and pray’. When choosing this line, make sure you apply strong quality assurance and governance via shared customer principles.

The Mega Backlog

GDS are good exponents of this line. When your job is fixing government, you know there will be lots of work to do. So you bite off what you can chew. The modern way of doing this is through a backlog. This is a list of all the things you want to fix, often in the form of Epics or User stories. The team apply a common sense approach to pulling things off the backlog, which are then designed, prototyped and deployed to live. To go beyond GDS, maintain a multichannel backlog. When choosing this line, you’ll need to have sense of the customer, business and organisational priorities, so people can prioritise collectively.

The Thin End of the Wedge

In Livework’s 16-year history we’ve helped clients choose this line many times, though it’s starting to wane in popularity. This line is the place to start in an organisation where people have no idea why they need to redesign their service, let alone what service design is. So you have to start somewhere small, where you can get traction / sponsorship / budget, deliver a change and then use that story to win two more projects. And so on, and so on, until soon you have 100 projects live and people are saying “oh service design, yeah we do that all the time”. When choosing this line, be careful you don’t inadvertently end up in Scattergun territory. Know when to flip to a new line.

The Massive Agile Co-Location

If the Thin End of the Wedge line is becoming less popular, this line is stealing its glory. This line is for organisations that are either a) very confident that they know what they’re doing, or b) totally terrified and putting all their chips on a spin of the roulette wheel. You essentially grab people from across the organisation, lock them in a room with some service designers and task them with redesigning an aspect of the service or customer’s experience. As this author can attest, this is not for the faint hearted, however the potential for positive disruption, knowledge transfer and culture change can be high. When choosing this line, make sure someone has your back. It’s a big commitment with a high weekly budget burn.

The Small, Well-Paced Team

This line is the equivalent of that kid at school who got along with everyone, did well at their grades, but no-one can quite remember their name. Not cool, but very effective. This line involves a small core team of designers working to a clear and commercially rigorous brief, drawing on a co-design team of experts at regular intervals, to deliver a clear and grounded specification for, or prototype of, the future service. Sounds impossibly simple, but for many of our clients, this has proved time and again the approach that delivers best all-terrain results. When choosing this line, it’s all about collaboration pitch and pace – too much and you hit quagmire, too little and you fail to gain influence.

Alas no-one has invented the service design equivalent of winter sports insurance, so please do take care choosing your line. If in doubt we’d be delighted to help you think it through.

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