What is Service Design and why your government agency needs it

Why every senior leader and decision maker needs service design in their toolkit

Lets play a game.

Think of a moment where you’ve had a terrible experience with an organisation. It could be anything from the product you had delivered not being what you expected; your car service being way more expensive then you were quoted; or you are now wasting your day on hold trying to correct a mistake on your income tax.

Now imagine that after this terrible experience you decided to devote all your efforts and resources into getting some sort of “payback” for the pain you experienced. I’m not saying round up a mob with pitchforks but think more in terms of formally complaining, publicly naming and shaming those involved, or starting a letter writing campaign to your local government member.

So how do you think you would feel? Good? Or at least better now that this organisation that wasted your time and money has had the same done to them?

Now obviously this is an extreme example to get you thinking. However, don’t forget that in today’s connected world, everyday citizens are empowered and even encouraged to share their experiences, good or bad, with the rest of the world. These shared experiences with your services can often make or break businesses, organisations, reform initiatives and even individual careers – Yikes!

And these examples aren’t just in the private sector, as the past few months of Royal Commissions and Judicial Inquiries proves.

This is why it is absolutely crucial for senior leaders and decision makers to understand and utilise service design when delivering outcomes and managing their teams – particularly in the public sector where there is increasing pressure to deliver government priorities, with less resources and increasing complexity and risks.

What is Service Design? – A refresher

So now we know that we need to do something, where should we start?

Well let’s start with a refresher on some definitions.

Design: The purpose of design is to deliver change – it is concerned about understanding what the change is and how the change should be delivered. We will do a future post on design but broadly it is about identifying fit-for-purpose solutions to address user needs within their context.

Services: Typically services are defined as intangibles that cannot be touched or handled yet provide customers/users with an experience. However, all services need to provide a means of delivering value to customers by providing them with a desired outcome through a range of interactions whether they be physical, digital or otherwise. Hence, we define a service as the delivery of a specific outcome to a customer across a range of interactions and touchpoints over time. In the public sector, these services aren’t just aspirational – they may be compulsory.

Service Design: Now bringing it together we define service design as the planning, crafting and integrating of all those touchpoints and interactions that support a desired customer experience and the organisation’s business needs.


Service Design definition

Give it to me in plain English please!

Practically this means that service design is the activity of planning and arranging your resources (i.e. people, processes, and ‘things’) to improve the quality or experience for both customers and your organisation as a whole.

Yeah ok but what does that actually involve?

Service design can take many forms with the key variables being scope and depth of effort.

At a high level, service design is concerned with the following six focus areas.

  • Understanding – Identifying and clarifying what really matters to customers and the business/organisation
  • Exploring – Synthesising and ideating on concepts and options
  • Evaluating – Analysing, testing and recommending what concepts could work
  • Defining – Specifying in detail how the solution will be made and the form it will take
  • Implementation – Understanding what further work is required to realise the solution
  • Measuring – Reviewing and identifying the success or not of the intended design and service
That looks awfully similar to a strategic planning approach – explain yourself!

That’s correct.

As with many strategic disciplines there is often an overlap between the approaches particularly when utilised by skilled and experienced practitioners who are focused on delivery great outcomes for their clients.

So what’s so special about Service Design then?

We’ve all seen or been involved in strategic initiatives that haven’t hit the mark. Typical words uttered around the water cooler include: “They don’t understand our situation at all”; “I really don’t get it”; and “Why are they just springing this on us at the last minute?”.

Well at the heart of service design is an approach that provides an opportunity to directly address the above issues and delivers the following outcomes and benefits.

  • Customer & User Focused – Really, and I mean really understand the needs, wants, expectations and experiences of those most important to your organisation through deep research and cross-sectoral intelligence.
  • Creating Collaboration & Engagement – A humanistic and empathetic approach to co-design, communication and engagement rapidly establishes and strengthens teamwork and buy-in amongst stakeholders and your organisation moving beyond traditional, transactional consultation.
  • Inspired Ideation and Fit-for-Purpose Solutions – By drawing on a wide range of influences and experiences, prototyping, rapidly iterating, and deliberately considering divergent views and options we can converge on appropriate solutions that best meet complex requirements and constraints.
  • Reducing Complexity and Directly Supporting Decision Making – Through understanding complex services from end-to-end, initiatives and their implications can be clearly understood at all levels, from senior decision makers to frontline staff, to ensure your organisation is aligned and empowered to drive for improvement and change.
And what does that mean to me?

As you can hopefully see, ignorance or confining yourself to simply managing your technical domain is no longer an option for today’s aspiring senior leaders and organisational decision makers.

Just as those before you who climbed the corporate ladder had to first expand their knowledge to areas such as leadership & coaching, negotiation and influence, financial management, technology and data literacy (to name a few). It is increasingly expected and even demanded that today’s senior leaders and decision makers understand, appreciate and apply good service design practices in order to deliver fit-for-purpose services to citizens and customers alike. In the public sector, we can also add the increased pressure of delivering services within an often complex and dynamic context of changing government priorities, scarce resources and increasing public scrutiny.

Contact us now to discuss how we can help you and organisation succeed

At Ngamuru, we bring our significant contemporary strategic service design and industry expertise to partner with you as your trusted advisory partner.

Whether its to respond to changing priorities, practically support, establish or uplift your internal capabilities, we always ensure you are empowered to continue to deliver the fit-for-purpose contemporary services demanded by your customers and users.

If you want to understand how our expertise can help you and your organisation then contact us now to discuss (link).