Intent Layer in full stack service design

Intent Layer

The intent of an organisation is the thing that it wants to achieve. This could be to ‘reduce road deaths’, ‘be the best beverage company in the South West’ or ‘make it easy for people to get the groceries they need conveniently for less money’.

Whatever this thing is, it is often more detailed than just simply ‘making money’ (if a commercial service) or ‘looking after or supporting people’ (if a public service).

An organisation’s intent is the thing that defines what services it provides and why it operates. This intent is often documented in a ‘mission’ or ‘purpose’, and, if that intent is fully supported within that organisation, will be encoded in every layer that this organisation uses to think — from its policies and business models right down to it’s values and ethics.

When we’re changing a service it’s important that we consider each of these ‘thinking layers’ and the effect they will have on how that organisation behaves and what it does.

Business Model Visual Component

How organisations finance and sustain their services is largely driven by the underlying business model an organisation uses. A business model outlines the value to be delivered to service users and what value the organisation who provides it might gain in return. It covers who the intended users are, where revenue comes from and how this is invested, the products and services it might produce, how it might deliver those and what it needs in place to resource those things.

There are lots of different ways you can charge for your service, and define who will pay for this. Business to Business (B2B), Business to Consumer (B2C) subscription, rental, freemium and leasing are all examples of business models that are successfully delivered in today’s market.

A successful business model doesn’t need to consider money alone as the value an organisation will get from providing a service. This can be switched for a non financial resource like volunteering time or swapping something.

Business models can evolve at any stage of a service’s lifespan. Sometimes they are considered before an organisation is created to drive forward the creation of a new entity, in other cases, they evolve as an organisation is delivering services, adapting as they respond in real time to how people use their service(s) and markets change.

They can focus on delivering one service, or expand to cover multiple products and services over time, equally, new technology or channels can often be deployed to transform how a service is delivered in line with the model.

Business models are closely linked to mission and ethics as they determine the value exchange an organisation wishes to have with its users. For example, an organisation might offer a free service but utilise a user’s data for financial gain.

We should always question and understand the business model powering services as it helps us to understand what our service outcomes are and how we balance user needs with business objectives. Without that knowledge, we can’t competently design services that deliver business objectives or question them where they need challenged.

How do business models affect the user experience?

Business models dictate the parameters of how a service can be designed to ensure it delivers value

Decision making can impact the user experience if profit or financial gain is the key driver

Business models can dictate what parts of the population we focus on based on return on investment

Business models can derive value for the business but in some situations, negatively impact our users

An outdated business model can stop an organisation from radically changing what it delivers to meet user needs

Questions we can ask as leadership

  • What is our business model?
  • What value are we trying to achieve through the delivery of our services?
  • What do the dominant market conditions show to be successful now and in the future?
  • How can we ensure that our business model is sustainable and supports users?
  • Does our business model stop us from delivering value to users?
  • Can we deliver value to users and balance business objectives?
  • Does our business model do harm to users?

Questions we can can ask if we work with this specific component

  • Is our business model sustainable in the long term?
  • Are there alternative models we can adopt to better meet user needs or ensure stability of the organisation?
  • Are we funding the organisation in the right way to deliver on our strategy?
  • Does our current business model enable core funding for our central costs and infrastructure?

Information we need to understand before we start designing

  • Is there a better business model to deliver value to our organisation and value for users?
  • Does our business model treat users ethically?
  • What does the supply chain for delivering our services look like and is it ethical?
  • Is there a better model that produces more value and meets the same user needs?
  • What are the behavioural trends in users in our marketplace and how can we drive value from that?
  • What channels does our model get delivered on?
  • What is the relationship between our organisation and users?
  • What resources are needed to deliver value to users?
  • What are other models of delivering similar value and what does this mean for our organization?
Policy visual component

Policies are the things that define a course, or set of actions.

Policies set the boundaries and rules of how we deliver our services, and how users can use our services. For example, a holiday policy for teachers might define when children can attend school, or a child protection policy for a charity might ensure an adult is always in the room for safeguarding purposes. These policies affect the way a user experiences a service because they dictate the way that service is implemented, and sometimes what that service is.

For example, a service that helps users to claim government benefits is derived from political intent, which becomes policy, which is then interpreted into a service. The rules and constructs written into policy can either tightly define the design or leave space for interpretation.

Policies and the design and delivery of services are inextricably linked. Policies help us understand the constraints and boxes within what we must design, and conversely policy can be shaped by the service we design depending on the power balance of who is able to define the policy. For example, as a response to a service going wrong, policies are often updated.

It’s important to recognise that there isn’t one person that writes ‘a policy’ or a step by step process. It is the cumulative development of conversations, reviews, consultations and design decisions. These then become the job of a delivery team to translate into working services. Traditionally this is done without direct involvement of users although there are good examples of where policy has been designed and tested with populations in recent years.

Not all policies become a ‘service’ but every policy will need to land somewhere, and each of these things will need to be designed with users in mind. In many cases, the service is being designed as the policy is being defined. Finding where policy is malleable is important so it can be moulded and or challenged to help support the intent for a service to be designed that truly meets user needs.

How does policy affect the service?

Policy can shape the service and user experience before it ever meets a design team or is tested. Policies can define the purpose, delivery channels or intended users of a service, even details like paper size of forms.

Innovation at a policy level can drive new propositions in familiar marketplaces and transform people’s expectations of the user experience, equally policy guides what staff can and can’t do for users in different scenarios in both hard and soft rules.

Questions we can ask as leadership

  • What policies do we have in place that drive our services?
  • Are we testing our policies before we implement them with our users?
  • What policies do we need to protect the rights of users?
  • Who needs to be involved in developing a policy?

Questions we can can ask if we work with this specific component

  • What are we hoping to achieve with this policy?
  • How will we know if it has worked?
  • Are we creating policies that are open to interpretation in how they are implemented?
  • Is the policy we’re designing going to end up as a service being delivered?
  • Who are the users of the policy intervention we are creating?
  • Who should be involved in the development of this policy?
  • Can we test this policy in practice?
  • Are our policies written in a way our staff can understand and implement them?
  • Are our organisational policies accessible to people?

Information we need to understand before we start designing

  • What regulatory laws or policy exist that impact what the service and users can and cannot do?
  • What policies affect or drive this service?
  • What are the regulations that must be met as part of the overall service design?
  • What areas of a policy affecting a service are malleable and what need to be strictly enforced?
  • Can the policy be stress tested by bringing it to life as a testable user experience?
  • What roles can the organisation play in helping meet the user needs we’re designing for?
  • What policies will need to be developed by the organisation to ensure this service is safely delivered?
Mission, Values and Ethics visual component

Our missions define what we’re here to do. It’s what we use as a driving force in aligning groups and delivering on a shared purpose. Sometimes a company will have overarching mission and vision statements and it’s products and services will have objectives aligned to this shaped around what value they are trying to deliver.

What mission we seek to achieve with our services are heavily defined by the values and ethics we hold. These can be individual or shared, explicitly expressed or sometimes unwritten.

Often, we can find ourselves drifting towards groups with similar values and ethics through a feeling of mutual ambition, type of work, how we dress, what we worship, and more. In these kinds of groups there is often a feeling of shared and mutual value sets and the signifiers of these values start to appear in the ‘culture’ we create. Take a profession like social work, despite commonly reported low wages, many in the industry feel a shared sense of purpose in helping people and striving for social justice of the people they support.

Sometimes, our mission, values and ethics are explicitly expressed and communicated. In an organisational scenario these may be explicit through company values on objects like posters, repeated sayings used by management or teams, company advertisements or written strategies containing mission-led objectives.

Mission, value and ethics drive our decision making and our ways of thinking, seeing, doing and being in the world.

These shared and individual values and ethics will guide the organisation and individuals in it to make decisions about what they deliver. Products and services will be guided by a consensus or debate of values and ethics.

How do missions, values and ethics affect the service?

Values can drive how an organisation treats its staff, and in turn how staff treat their customers

Strong held values can be challenged when service transformation is undertaken and can unsettle staff which has an impact on the user experience

Mission driven organisations retain staff who in turn are driven to deliver better experiences for customers

Shared values or codes that staff subscribe to can lead teams into designing services that align to it

Questions we can ask as leadership

  • What is our mission?
  • Do the services we deliver align with our original mission and help us achieve it?
  • Is our mission and values communicated in a way that staff can use them to make decisions?
  • Is our organisation behind our mission?
  • Do we have a sense of what our collective values are?

Questions we can can ask if we work with this specific component

  • Are we currently delivering services that achieve our mission?
  • How are we measuring success?
  • Can we co-design our values with staff and invite them to bring them to life?
  • How do we communicate our values in the everyday?
  • Are our values communicated well and understood across our services?
  • Are our values actionable and helpful to driving the delivery of services?

Information we need to understand before we start designing

  • Is there an organisational code or set of implementable values for aligning our design decisions to?
  • Is the environment being harmed in the delivery of our services?
  • Are we looking after the user’s safety and privacy?
  • Are these services universally accessible for people?



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store