Strategy as Service Design

What if we viewed our strategy as a vehicle for shaping our services rather than the other way around? By looking at a strategy as more than a plan, but as a service design we can better align what we want with what we do. We begin this look by considering what kind of questions we can ask to get us going.

A strategy is a plan coupled with action. A good strategy is one that facilitates actions that align what you currently do with what you want.

We make mistakes in developing strategy when we lean too much into the present or the future. What we want is to create something that connects and reflects the two.

By treating our strategy development process more as a service design we can achieve this.

Service Design and Strategy

Service Design helps us to frame what we offer in a way that fits with the people and resources that are involved in the offering.

Service design is the activity of planning and organizing a business’s resources (people, props, and processes) in order to (1) directly improve the employee’s experience, and (2) indirectly, the customer’s experience. 

Nielson – Norman Group

A good service is one that solves a problem, meets a need, and delivers value. The same is true for strategy.

Strategy is most often not something that is conscious among those at the forefront of the delivery of the service. It is the leadership team that draws its focus on the strategy itself and management and front-line staff that ensure that it is manifest in delivery. What if we viewed the entire strategy development and delivery process as a service? How might that look?

Consider the very act of envisioning what the strategy is — what it focuses on, what the goals are, and what processes are in place to achieve them. The service this provides to the organization is to surface assumptions, articulate processes and users involved in the delivery of a product or service, suggest outcomes (and goals), and reveal or affirm values. This is a service to the organization. Rather than view it as a one-time event, strategy — for most human service organizations at least — is ongoing.

Adaptive strategy allows organizations to work with the complexity introduced by human services and systems, thus it is always in service of the organization.

How to Implement?

It’s important to remember another distinction between designing a service and service design.

Service design addresses how an organization gets something done— think “experience of the employee.” Designing a service addresses the touchpoints that create a customer’s journey — think “experience of the user.”

Nielson – Norman Group

In this case, the ‘how’ is about strategy development. It involves bringing together members of the organization to consider what it does (e.g., reflective practice, design research), where it is positioned in the market/environment, and where it seeks to go and what factors affect that (e.g., foresight). This entire stream or storyline is something we can start with asking service-oriented questions:

  1. Who are the intended users of the service? This focuses us on those that will be involved in developing, delivering, and shepherding the strategy from start to finish. This question helps to identify which people, roles, organizational partners, or clients need to be consulted and involved. This can include developing personas of your own organization and partners. Design research is important with answering this question.
  2. What are the service user’s needs, wants, fears and hopes? This is also where design research can help us to articulate the obvious and
  3. What are the intended outcomes and when are they expected/needed by? Evaluative thinking is brought into the process here by helping us to articulate the connections and logic between what is being proposed and what it is meant to achieve.
  4. What is the journey that the user undertakes in moving toward the objective? Journey maps that can help articulate the way in which the various users and participants engage with the process and the touchpoints that exist in between. In doing so, this helps further articulate the logic of the strategy and the coherence of the process.
  5. How will we know what the process and objectives are in practice? This is another place for evaluation to come in to frame what kind of learning we can gain and the feedback systems that can help support it.
  6. How might we shape the service and the systems supporting it to achieve exceptional outcomes? This is the aspirational part of service design that takes what we learn from the answers to the previous questions and puts them together. This prompts us to consider how strategy could engage the organization, be executed, evaluated, and set to achieve the best of what it sets out to do.

In future posts, I’ll discuss what this might look like in practice. In the meantime, consider how you can take your strategy development and transform it into something better and as a service and a product.

If setting the direction and asking these questions is something you want help asking (and answering), please contact me and let’s talk. This is what I do.

Photo by Gautam Krishnan on Unsplash

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Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

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