A question I commonly ask or look for the answer to: What is it you are designing? For the sake of simplicity I am going to say I reduce this down to three options:
- A product?
- A service?
- An organisation?
Last week at Service Design in Government the sessions I attended gave me a strong feel how organisations treated design against this scale and how service design was seen and embraced within that.
There’s a scale for that as well: Is ‘service design’ a synonym for interaction design on a product or is it seen as the driver for organisational operations?
The majority of examples at SD in Gov expressed service designing is not just a long game, it’s the always way of working for good services, for better organisations. On my scale this felt mature. Hardly any mention of digital or websites too. No “We use service design on a project to service design a new service in three months and job done”, scrappily pulling together the prototype and MVP4EVA!. Heartening examples of organisations and businesses embracing better services, even good services. Service designing setting up, folding neatly into organisational design. It felt service design and service designers had found their place, their mood and their groove, working together, supplementing what the organisations and businesses (and the people within them) already do. To reiterate: It felt very… mature. Trust the process.
At SD in Gov there were many discussion around government services. So many public services exist in a position as the singular provider. There is no alternative.
During my time on NHS Beta I learned a lot about public healthcare in England. The NHS might be seen as a service but within it are so many other services, so many other organisations.
In healthcare there are alternatives. The public service is viewed as the default, but it isn’t the only option. There are private healthcare options. Even public care isn’t always public: Through procurement and tenders there is competition to bid to fulfil the service by some of those private healthcare providers. NHS services aren’t always fulfilled by NHS staff or organisations.
At the moment I work on a digital product that helps NHS organisations recruit staff into their organisations: NHS Jobs. These prompts constantly go through my head:
- The strategy may be about delivery but…
- What is the problem the service is trying to overcome?
- What are the outcomes of the service?
- What are our actions to deal with this challenge?
More staff to lower staff shortages? Better quality of staff overall within the NHS? Encourage the NHS to be a better employer, especially under the competitive pressure for staff from private care providers? What about the real end users of the NHS: Better health outcomes for the people who receive health advice, treatment and care from an NHS service? Would more staff improve access to services, say, raise satisfaction through better access to primary care services (like a GP)? (In 2018 public satisfaction with GP services was 63 per cent, the lowest level since surveying began in 1983.)
Am I looking too much at the bigger picture? Maybe I need to zoom back into the digital product.
As a recruitment service NHS Jobs sits in a position that is not uncommon in healthcare: It is not unique. There are alternatives, to advertise (as an employer) and find (as a jobseeker) job vacancies within the NHS. NHS Jobs sits as one product in a busy market, and some of the alternatives can be more specific, appropriate, even tailored for specific audiences and needs.
When you are a product within a service, why would your product be preferred over the alternatives?
- Knowing what the product is: Vital.
- Knowing what the product isn’t: Vital.
- Knowing what the product could be: Vital.
- Knowing what the product shouldn’t be: Vital.
How much weight does carrying the NHS brand carry? Complacency of approach and execution and continual movement of the service isn’t permissible regardless of the brand. Public perception isn’t the same as employee perception here. You need users of this product, who stay using it.
How do you build your regular, your committed user base? How do you keep your user base regularly committed to your product?
- By supplementing existing recruitment processes?
- By giving employers the tools and guidance to do their existing processes, but better (maybe through digital means too)?
- By trying to disrupt their existing ways of working to best practise?
What works for everyone? One, some or all of those? How do you design for that?
This is proper product territory. Just delivering something isn’t just enough. It needs to work and work best compared to the alternatives. Being in tune with the wider picture, understanding how your product can contribute, even create the positive outcomes expected by the users of your service as jobseekers and employers — and ultimately the end users of their healthcare service. That’s service design basically. That makes good service design. Know the process and trust the process. Aim for good service design: The service works for its users and it works well for its users.
That should be the outcome. That’s what I saw a lot of at SD in Gov: Good. Progress. Continually.
The strategy is delivering that.