173 – A series: Managers as designers in local government. Part 4.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                              1000 words

Kano model Wikipedia

Kano’s model

This is the last post in this series. It looks at how design can be used for new services and their implementation in local government.

Roger Martin and Tim Brown provide a related but different view of design in organisations. They see it as helping stakeholders and organisations work better together as a system. This is a systems-thinking approach as much as it involves design-thinking.

They describe the evolution of use of design in organisations as the ‘classic path of intellectual process’ as each design process is more sophisticated than the one before it because it was enabled by learning from that preceding stage. As designers have become more skilled in applying design to shape user experiences of products, they have turned to ‘user interfaces’ and other experiences.

“And once they learned how to redesign the user experience in a single organisation, they were more prepared to tackle the holistic experience in a system of organisations.”

They describe the adaptation of design tools from products to services and experiences as design-thinking. This correlates with the use of design thinking explained by Jon Kolko. However, it is at this point that Martin and Brown start to provide insight into the challenges in acceptance of the outcomes of design-thinking – the ‘designed artefact’. Whilst Kolko sees models as design artefacts, Martin and brown see the final product or output of design thinking as the design artefact. For example, a new process to deliver a service.

The focus of their article is the ‘intervention’ required for stakeholders to accept a new design artefact – whether ‘product, user experience, strategy or complex system’. They argue that the design of the ‘intervention’ (i.e. the way a new product or service is introduced to users and its integration into the status quo) is even more critical to success than the design of the product or service itself.

This is not news for people in local government. Change management is a key focus of many organisations as they attempt to deal with changing community expectations, new legislated requirements and rate capping. Designing the ‘intervention’ to implement a new service or re-designed service makes sense. The new information is the way Martin and Brown suggest that it can be done.

They describe the launch of a new service that is similar to an existing service as likely to be seen as a good thing by everyone involved because it is unlikely to create any meaningful changes to the organisation or the way people work.   It isn’t threatening to anyone’s job or existing power structures.

In contrast, introducing something new is always worrisome. It will affect the status quo and it might fail. In this situation, Martin and Brown say that designers need to worry about this impact.

“The more complex and less tangible the designed artefact is, though, the less feasible it is for the designer to ignore it potential ripple effects.”

They say that the business model may need to change. In effect, there are two parallel design processes; the artefact (i.e. a new service) and the intervention for its implementation (i.e. the change management).

Understanding and predicting user reactions to a new service is difficult. Martin and Brown discuss the work of organisations like IDEO in using design-orientated approaches involving ethnography rather than statistical analysis. It involves frequent and rapid re-engagement with users in short repeat cycles while improving the service until it meets user expectations.

In fact, Martin and Brown talk about repeating the cycles until customers are ‘delighted’ by the service. This is not necessarily appropriate in local government and a focus on meeting customer expectations or purpose (as described by John Seddon) is more appropriate. ‘Delight’ in the context of Kano’s customer satisfaction model is not what most public services are intended to achieve. Some are, and then it is important to differentiate.

For the many council services delivered using an efficiency-based business model, the objective is to be ‘just good enough’ to provide the expected value to the customer. Reducing waste, optimising use of capacity, standardising and being reliable and consistent is the requirement.

For those services using a value-based business model the objective is to fully meet the needs and expectations of the customer. Accommodating customer variability, and being accessible and flexible in providing responsive services is the requirement. Delighting customers may be appropriate. The risk in delighting customers is that it moves the value expectation upwards (i.e. you raise the bar on yourself). It should only be done when it adds genuine value that is understood and appreciated by the customer.

The frequent and rapid re-engagement with users in short repeat cycles described by Martin and Brown is known as ‘rapid prototyping’. Low resolution prototypes are taken to stakeholders or users and through successive cycles the prototypes become more refined as the design solution is resolved.

The speed of the process and engagement with stakeholders is important to overcome the fear of the unknown that so often kills ideas, especially in the public sector. Martin and Brown propose a systematic way to engage with the key stakeholders in any organisational intervention – the decision makers – that they describe as ‘iterative interaction’. It has four steps:

  1. We think this is the problem we need to solve; to what extent does it match your view?
  2. Here are the possibilities we want to explore, given the problem definition we agreed on; to what extent are they the possibilities you imagine? Are we missing some and are any under consideration non-starters for you?
  3. We plan to do these analyses on the possibilities that we have agreed are worth exploring; to what extent are they the analyses that you would want done, and are we missing any?
  4. This is the proposed solution to the problem.

In local government this approach would work well with the Executive responsibility to approve the solution. They will have helped ‘define the problem, confirm the possibilities, and affirm the analyses’. This is particularly important if the solution is a meaningful deviation from the status quo.

Martin and Brown conclude by saying –

“Intervention is a multi-step process- consisting of many small steps, not a few big ones. Along the entire journey interactions with the users of a complex artefact are essential to weeding out bad designs and building confidence in the success of good ones.”

Brown, Tim and Martin, Roger 2015. ‘Design for Action’, Harvard Business Review, September.