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  • Writer's pictureJ.Margus Klaar

Doing is harder than talking

We are often engaged by clients in both the public and private sector, to help design better services. However, curiously, in quite a number of these engagements, we actually never design the services. We just help in defining the service.

The above scenario really works well, if the client has an internal design team that can take the described service blueprint, and execute it as intended. All they wanted help with, was the customer research and defining the actual problem to be solved, a.k.a. the service to be improved. Having an outside partner in the discovery phase of the project helps bring more diverse points-of-view to the table, lets you see potential pitfalls based on other people’s experience and allows you to avoid internal opinion wars, where the person who talks the loudest and longest, wins.

Internal design teams with the authority to execute visions are a rarity.

Figuring out what the problem is, is just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg. Developing a lasting solution is not as easy as describing what the solution should do. And, if the team developing the solution is not the same team that figured out what the solution should be and WHY, then the likelihood of failure increases almost to a certainty. Certainty, because the team will start focusing on how the service solution works from an internal point-of-view, not from what value it has to deliver to the end user (as in what problem it was designed to solve).

Although it seems ridiculous, there is a “lost-in-translation” in the hand-over from the discovery team to the delivery team. “Fingerspitzengefühl” for the customer challenge is lost and, as the solutions are iterated and (hopefully tested), a subtle shift of focus takes place from customer to company.

Hopefully tested

Only by testing continuously with customers, can the solution be developed in a manner consistent with the definition of the problem to be solved. However, testing is again something that falls victim to opinion wars, as the traditional “expert” doesn’t need to test anything with anybody. After all, he is the expert and testing with customers is more akin to admitting you don’t know, rather than being a prudent development technique.

Why does this happen?

Developing solutions is tricky and, unfortunately, unpredictably expensive. Expensive in the sense, that one cannot even begin to budget the work for the solution until the problem is properly defined. However, doing the discovery correctly already requires quite an expense and this leads to budget fatigue by the time the future state service blueprint is delivered. This is then accepted by the company as what should be done, but only some of the aspects are implemented. Usually the easy ones, from the company’s perspective, rather than the necessary one’s from the customer’s point-of-view.

Secondly, in complex and inter-related services, there are so many moving parts that organisations often feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to go into actually changing the way the service is developed and delivered, that they simply decide that cosmetic changes are enough. Which of course everyone knows is not good enough, but wishful thinking does take you to the end of the quarter.

Execution requires design. And designers.

There have to be people involved from beginning to end. Call these people designers. Call them consultants. Call them on the phone. But splitting the discovery and delivery into different teams is a recipe for failure. Understandably there are budget challenges that arise when you hire in consultants and service designers. However, that will not be anything near as expensive as not getting the delivery done at all, in which case all the money will have been wasted.

Designers with a broad experience of different industries, products, services and challenges are a good partner and midwife to facilitate the design process from discovery through delivery, without losing focus of what is actually important to the end user – the person for whom all the work is actually being done. Making sure that you have on your team people comfortable in the design process, from the fuzzy front end right through prototyping and iteration of ready solutions, is the best way to ensure that the money spent is also well spent. Whether this means hiring consultants or developing and internal design team with real board level backing is up to you. Just make sure that you end up with a team capable of more than just talking.

First time?

If it is your first time to apply design methods to business or organisational problems, hire a designer to help you from beginning to end. Designers are comfortable with uncertainty the same way everyone else is not. Facilitating the process is the designer’s main job, to help you see the light at the end of the tunnel, even when the tunnel is a maze. Because if you don’t, you’re likely to get lost.


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