Organisational Layer in full stack service design

Organisation layer

Services are shaped by the organisations that create them.

Just like how a product is shaped by the machine that produces it, the way we construct our organisations or collaborative arrangements to design, deliver and maintain services affects the user experience. Our mental models of how organisations or organising should work often create constructs that our services inherit, making users do the hard work to navigate the bureaucracy of organisational designs.

Governance drives organisations and brings people together to make decisions. How it is run, what data we use to make decisions and who is involved all impact on our services.

Importantly, governance outlines not just how decisions are made, but the rules of who might be involved in taking decisions, who has authority for those decisions and who is responsible for these when they happen.

When governance is done well, it helps us to make sure we’re delivering our mission, monitoring risks and delivering the services we should be. Without governance of some format to monitor and challenge performance and risks, organisations can put their sustainability at risk and the services they deliver.

Governance takes the form of varying processes, rhythms and rituals that bring together people at varying levels of seniority — from boards to team meetings — to take collective decisions. This usually comprises scheduled meetings that bring together information and data in varying formats and the decisions being taken within these.

To make informed decisions you need data and knowledge. Good governance considers what type is needed to make informed decisions about the services being delivered and the sustainable operation of these. The most important piece of information to include in any governance is information about the end user and what effect any decision that is being taken will have on that user.

It’s important to recognise that whilst governance is run as a set of formal events and structures, the influence on decision making can often come in between the margins of meetings through conversations. The importance of relationships and power must be recognised amongst the formality of governance.

Understanding how governance comes to life in your organisation, what relationships drive it, when key moments take place, who is involved and what kind of data is being used to drive decisions within a given governance structure is key when you’re considering the redesign of any service.

How does governance affect the service?

How much autonomy we have to make decisions on behalf of users can impact our ability to be able to respond quickly and proportionally to the things we find in user-research and improve our services

Not having performance data on services in the right forums can impact the effective design, delivery and maintenance of a service

If services aren’t properly governed, they can quickly become inefficient or unprofitable, leading to the discontinuation of services

The sustainability of a service is based on the strength of an organisation’s governance. At an organisational level, if your governance is not effective in marrying up the supply and demand and the balance of funding of your services, there is potential for services to suffer, leaving users in potential danger if it is a critical service for them

The user experience can be affected by poor decision making governance when there is a lack of understanding of what it takes to make, build and deliver services. This can lead to setting short time frames to deliver services

Questions we can ask as leadership

  • What governance do we need to effectively run and protect our service users, both as our organisation and with our wider network of partnerships?
  • What are the decisions that need a senior level of sign-off? What can and should be delegated to the front line of our organisation to decide?
  • Do we have the right data to make informed decisions about our organisation and services?
  • Who should be involved in making decisions around our strategy?
  • Is service performance part of our governance model?
  • Have our decision makers experienced our services recently?
  • Is equality and diversity part of our governance?
  • What are our organisational risks and who is managing these?

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

  • What regulatory or legal obligations do we need to meet to govern ourselves effectively?
  • Do we have the right data and information to report effectively on our performance?
  • Do we have governance in place to review any partner organisations ability to deliver and sustain our partnership together?

Information we need to understand before we start designing

  • What is the organisational governance model?
  • Where are critical decisions made that affect the service outcomes and user experience?
  • What are the sector or organisational key regulatory and legal obligations to make in relation to the services they deliver?
  • Where are the informal relationships that influence decision making?
  • Does the governance help or hinder teams to make decisions and take action where needed?

Most services are shaped by what money or resource is available to invest in and run them. This money can be provided by a range of avenues, directly from customers to public finance models where organisations work under contract, commissioners, annual letters or targets.

Finance is the management of money and includes activities such as investing, borrowing, lending, budgeting, saving, and forecasting. What an organisation invests in, often centres around their forecasted budget. Forecasts and budgets are usually cyclical and in many traditional models run on an annual basis with the backdrop of a forecast painting the best and worst case scenarios.

Financial budgets and forecasts will usually be aligned with some form of organisational strategy so recognising where and how these decisions are made, and how they are signed off, will help release investment when you’re trying to improve a service.

Financial budgets and targets are usually provided to departments, teams, services or functions of an organisation that outline what they can spend on delivering their service, commonly with targets on what they should make or save.

The type of money or funding an organisation can also come with constraints. External funding can often come with conditional outcomes attached to it, stating what an organisation should deliver or spend it on. Some funding is to specifically fund service delivery. Some are conditional for an organisation to develop its governance to be able to deliver services well. This can often result in organisations building services specific to funding they have received and eroding their original central offer they set up to deliver or investing in short term needs, over longer term infrastructure.

Funding is rarely stable and can also increase and decrease dramatically in quick cycles depending on external factors. When there is increased need for a service, for example in a pandemic, funders may invest in increasing provision quickly. This will drive new services and increased capacity for meeting needs, however when over, finance can force these to close down as the programme of work finishes.

The balance sheet is a key touchpoint of an organisation’s decision making. Institutions regularly meet around maintaining a clean balance sheet indicating they have little or no debt, or if there is actual debt, that the risk is managed and will be recovered. A balance sheet is the summary of the financial balances of an individual or organisation, no matter what kind of formal structure exists and in short, covers their assets, liabilities, any shareholding equity at a specific point in time.

A clean balance sheet means ensuring a healthy level of available cash (liquidity) to flexibly fund operations and save up for what the Brits call, ‘a rainy day’, where you have to recover from something unexpected happening. This is about being fiscally responsible and ensuring there is a healthy level or profit to reinvest back into running the organisation, or spending to the limit of what has been outlined for an organisation in their financial envelope or ensuring in a charitable context there is a healthy level of reserves maintained.

It’s important to recognise that many decisions on how resources are allocated — whether that is expenditure for service provision, development work, or ongoing maintenance — will all come back to a spreadsheet. In larger organisations making decisions might be taken by a business or finance team who are overseeing a business case for a specific department, and will make a call on expenditure on a case by case basis. In small organisations decisions might come back to a basic live spreadsheet where examination on spend is a literal line by line outline of expenditure. The numbers may be hugely different from £100s to multi-million contracts, but the question is always the same — can we afford to do this, and what is our return?

Depending on motivation, corporation type and business model, an organisation might emphasise profit, breaking even, or spending funding they receive wisely with conditions, like a grant.

This might mean that financial decisions take the form of resourcing decisions or decisions about time and focus of a team. It’s not money that’s the asset here, it’s people’s time but it’s still a resource that powers a service.

Understanding basic economic concepts can go a long way in recognising how services are costed, financed and sustainability can fluctuate based on external factors. Profit and loss, cost of delivery, EBITDA ( Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization), return on investment, scarcity, supply chain are all terms and concepts worth learning so if in the position of making a business case to invest in services, you can talk in the language of the balance sheet.

All of this is important to recognise who and what is driving decisions in terms of how an organisation invests. How systems and organisations finance services impacts on the ability to sustainably deliver them and improve them overtime. This includes non monetary based investment, for example where to focus internal resources.

An organisation’s annual or time based budget typically outlines where resources will be spent and is sometimes signed off by external stakeholders or decision makers, like a board of trustees. Understanding when and how these decisions are made is important if you need to navigate or pitch for funding to develop and deliver services.

Further to how funding works, it’s important to think about how an organisation invests. An organisation can choose to invest their finances and resources into the technical systems that power a service, the user experience of a service, the staff who deliver it, the security of the service. There are many spinning plates to invest in keeping a service running before considering investment in updating or changing it.

If an organisation has money in abundance, it may still not choose to invest it into service development. An entity can choose to manage its finances to focus on varying different outcomes. They might choose profit and deliver a minimum viable service, or a service just good enough for users. It can choose to use profit to invest in research and development, and improve its services overtime. An organisation can choose to focus on increasing turnover by developing more services in the marketplace or choose to retain existing shares of services and continue to deliver their service. Conversely, they can choose to deliver less.

Finance, understanding it and how organisations take decisions around it, is central to service design.

How does finance and resources impact on service outcomes and the user experience?

If there is no available finance or cash fluidity, an organisation cannot invest in updating or improving its service

The constitution of how an organisation is set up and its goals will affect the decisions made on service expenditure and investment

The timescales for service improvement to meet user needs is reliant on being programmed into a financial decision making cycle and forecast, and ultimately the timing of service improvements may revolve around annual budgetary sign off

Emergency funds at a time of increased need can create a dependency on services which can result in issues when this extra money is taken away

Supply and demand of materials to deliver a service and their costs will impact the bottom line of an organisation and change their capacity to meet the scale of demand, positively and negatively

Funding, if not designed well, can limit cross organisational, departmental or geographic boundary work because it limits where it can be spent

Service decisions can be driven by budgetary cuts that are outside of an organisation’s control

The promise of finance in return of future profitability can drive decisions on how a service might be designed to save money or make profit

The conditions and outcomes attached to financial investment will dictate what kind of resources can be focused on service improvement or purchased

How a service is designed may be dictated by how it is assessed for financial gateways of spend controls

The spend controls set out in an organisation or sector’s legislation can stop a service from progressing into implementation

Questions we can ask as leadership

  • What do we need to invest in year on year to maintain our services?
  • Do we know if our services need investment to meet user or customer needs?
  • What risks are there in the cost of delivery of our services?
  • How is the service portfolio financed and does this affect the user experience?
  • What, if any, are the savings targets for the organisation and how does this affect the user experience?
  • What is our research and development budget for improving our services?
  • Can resources be aligned across departments or silos to deliver an improved user experience?
  • What do we need to financially plan for in relation to our services (emergent technologies, user or societal needs, threats)

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

  • Does the funding model support services to be designed across organisational and system boundaries?
  • Is there a business case process or forecast review we can align our service improvement asks to?
  • Can we make cost savings through more effective or lean delivery?

Information we need to understand before we start designing

  • What investment does the service need to ensure it is secure overtime?
  • What is the current cost of service delivery?
  • What does our service design cost to run if implemented?
  • How much does this service or service portfolio cost to deliver?
  • What is the cost of our service redesign?
  • What external factors might increase or decrease the cost of service delivery?
  • What are the key financial outcomes/impacts this service or product need to align to?
  • What does a business case need to include to ensure investment?
  • What is the organisation likely to invest in, what information will de-risk this investment?

Procurement and supplier management involves buying goods and services that enable an organisation to have the resources, equipment and people to deliver their services.

Procurement can refer to the final ‘purchase’ but can also refer to the process of defining a need, going to a market, choosing suppliers and signing contracts for delivery.

The procured services can be both directly and indirectly connected to the service the user interacts with, for example organisations might procure research services that help inform their organisational strategy or they might procure entire end-to-end services for users and the touchpoints they interface with.

Procurement can form a large or a small part of your organisation’s ability to deliver services, with some organisations being set up to handle the procurement and running of services entirely through external providers, and others delivering their services entirely in-house with minimal help brought in.

Most services run at scale will have some kind of interdependency on an outsourced supplier which is usually technology related, and organisations have to make a decision based on their finances, skills and capabilities whether to deliver services themselves or utilise external suppliers to help them. Whilst there is no right answer that will fit every organisation a balance needs to be struck between the speed of initial delivery (which is often faster with an external supplier), the speed to spin up a service and the long-term sustainability of the service.

Some organisations allow teams to run their own procurement, meaning the individual who will be responsible for the successful delivery of a supplier’s contract will be at the helm of the procurement and see it through. However, in many instances, a scope of work or outcomes can be translated by procurement and legal departments to ensure it can go out to market. Sometimes the actual needs of a team or department can get lost in translation during procurement because of the need for legal definitions or domain expertise not being readily available in the procurement team.

This misunderstanding can continue once a supplier has been chosen and a legally binding contract developed at the end of a successful bidding process which can include targets, incentives and service level agreements (SLA’s) that can shape the way that this supplier works and therefore the service itself is delivered.

With any outsourced component, we must ensure that suppliers will consider user needs in the way they work and ideally, commit to iterative development and improvement of the service over time. Unless these needs are thought of at the outset of procurement, it’s all too easy for organisations to purchase an external supplier’s systems at a low price and feel like they’re gaining value for money but find themselves later in difficult circumstances when the costs to have simple changes made mounts up.

From setting the anticipated outcomes and needs, to how you engage with suppliers, the criteria you use to assess suitability of a supplier can be tailored to emphasise a focus on user needs and iterative development. This is far from the norm of outsourced contracts but a shift that is being called for. Most procurement exercises list refined details on outputs, lengthy pre-defined features and unshiftable delivery dates because it is easier to manage and review performance, however this is usually inadequate for modern and agile ways of developing and running services to be able to respond quickly to changing needs.

Getting the contract right, arrangement around collaborative working and expectations, continuous improvement needs, and integration with your existing infrastructure are all important considerations in the procurement of external support to run services and setting the conditions for how you will manage and work together with suppliers.

On the flip side, if choosing to run services in a more blended or in-house approach you need to be sure you have the right finance available to continuously resource the maintenance, development and running of services through skilled teams and staff.

How does procurement impact service outcomes and the user experience?

If procurement focuses on outputs, not outcomes it is likely the service will not meet user needs over time

Service level agreements (SLAs), developed during the procurement process will dictate if and how your service can be improved, timescales for requested changes and what happens if something goes wrong which will impact your user experience

The contractual agreement will outline costs for changes to be implemented to your externally provided service which you may or may not be able to afford

If your external service providers are not adequately audited, they may pose a risk to service continuity if you externally outsource and they hit hard times

Procurement must ensure that suppliers will be able to integrate with existing systems that services are run on and meet any integration post system upgrades that are in the pipeline, or costly development may be needed and disrupt service continuity

Without clear design principles in place that suppliers must meet, suppliers may not consider user experience and user needs as highly as you do resulting in an inaccessible or poor user experience

A blended mix of service providers that make up a user journey may cause confusion for users if the name of services or brand changes during their experience

How you score your potential suppliers and the criteria they must meet could alienate certain organisations from bidding for your service

Questions we can ask as leadership

  • What services do we need to outsource, and what can we confidently deliver in-house?
  • What skills and internal capacity do we need for the future to ensure our organisation can respond to changing needs?
  • Can we run a joint procurement for the development of key infrastructure with other organisations and share the investment?
  • Are we getting the best out of our suppliers?
  • Do we need all of the modules a supplier is selling to us and can we reduce costs of contract?
  • Do our procurement, legal and commercial teams understand user experience design and how to make this part of procurement and contractual arrangements?

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

  • Do suppliers have ample opportunity to learn about our service vision and outcomes in the procurement process?
  • Are there clear user needs for an outsourced supplier to meet, or is it within their scope of work that they will work with or for you to define these and deliver a service that meets them?
  • Does the supplier team have a process for meeting user needs and continuously developing services?
  • Is this supplier in a secure position to deliver this
  • Does our SLA ensure suppliers have a well designed experience for users if the service fails or stops working and recovery model in place?
  • Can we frame our procurement around outcomes and reduce output language?
  • Does the financial model, payment agreements and contracts ensure we can continuously improve our service to meet user needs?
  • Do our contractual agreements discuss end user experience?
  • Should we have users or key staff involved in the procurement process?
  • Do our contracts outline outcomes that focus on the end-user experience?

Information we need to understand before we start designing

  • What is the current ecosystem of services run on and by?
  • What are the key contractual agreements and/or SLAs in place for this service(s)?
  • Are any of the contracts flexible in changing the agreements?
  • What does a user centered Service level agreement (SLA) look like for this service?

How we work as an organising structure, and how we design — whether consciously or unconsciously — our organisations into departments and teams can often dictate the design of our services, structure and processes for users.

We’re used to hearing about siloed organisations being bad. In truth, most organisations have silos of one kind or another and they can be useful for ordering complex work and systems.

More often than not though, these useful silos are a double edged sword — helping to deliver complex services, but at the same time preserving that same complexity in hard-coded team structures and job roles.

These silos can easily also lead to breakdowns in the user experience, and create confusion over who is accountable at each stage of a user’s journey through a service. This can lead to a fragmented or disjointed user experience when these organisational seams become visible to your user, forcing them to learn the organisational structure and its codified language to use the service.

But it’s not just organisational silos that affect the way we design services. We can talk about ‘organisational structures’ in a few ways.

There are official organisations — those registered in a country as a business, a charity, not for profit, or part of the state’s infrastructure.

In this formalised setting ‘organisational structures’ are the system used to define hierarchy within an organisation and how delivery is monitored. It will outline who does what and who reports to who.

This kind of structure will affect the organisation’s actions and staff activities, with policies and cultural elements shaped around this and vice versa.The structure also determines how information and decisions are taken across the company.

Some organisations will be centralised, meaning decisions and information will flow in a top down way, whilst decentralised structures might have distributed decision making powers, sometimes shared across staff.

Equally, our services are often influenced by more informal organising structures at work within our organisations. There are often organising structures that are unknown to an organisation, undocumented or not officially defined, formed of informal networks or sub-groups set up on their own merit to help achieve the end goal.

In all cases, there is an element of organising people, assets and resources to work collectively towards a shared outcome and all have an equal impact on the eventual decisions that this organisation (whether formal or informal) makes about its services.

How do organisational structures affect the service?

Org structures can become visible to users, with services designed around siloed teams meaning users have to learn specialist language and mental maps to meet their user needs

When services are run by multiple different departments without clear ownership for service decisions or approval processes are complex, this can affect a services ability to respond quickly to feedback or emergent needs

Decisions around services can be taken by people multiple times removed from the frontline delivery and informed by specialised reporting, meaning the true needs of users might not be communicated to help make well informed decisions on user needs

The organising of people around functions and not services means that decisions made about the full stack of what powers services may be made based on organisational need and not in reference to a wider user journey leading to unmet needs or difficult to use services

Services can often be delivered by a team that then disbands once the service is live’. but without accountability for the continuous improvement of the service, this can lead to services failing over time from system updates to not meeting user needs.

Improving the user experience can often fall between the cracks of different teams and their budgets. Even if a specific team wants to proceed in reviewing a service performance or improving it, politics, budget, resources might get in the way of doing so.

Questions we can ask as leadership

  • Does the way we’re structured help us make decisions that put user needs first?
  • How can we organise ourselves to focus on the services we run?
  • Are we enabling cross organisation decisions to be made?
  • Do we have the right sign off / control in place to manage risks and empower frontline staff and teams responsible for services to improve and innovate services
  • Is the structure and design of our organisation fit for the services we need to deliver now, and in the future?
  • Who is really accountable for the end user experience of our staff and users?

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

  • What are the key strategic projects we need to run to align our organisation around the user experience?
  • If we re-organise our organisations for more efficient or joined up delivery, do we need to consider job losses or role transitions?
  • How do we organise ourselves to ensure we have accountability for the user experience and our services?

Information we need to understand before we start designing

  • How are services managed and by who in the organisation?
  • What teams have a role in delivering the service and is it set up to meet needs across the whole user journey?
  • Are there any dead ends or delays in the service due to the organisational structure?
  • What is the best way for an organisation’s tasks and activities to be portioned up to deliver this user experience?
  • Do all our services have clear service ownership and activities based around continuous service improvement?

In order to deliver a service we need to be clear about who is responsible for what tasks and at what point in a service they are being delivered. The skills we have within our organisations, and the way we define those skills into specific ‘roles’ plays a huge part in our ability to organise ourselves to deliver our services.

In the context of services, roles can be assumed to look after specific parts of a user experience and carry out the tasks that need to be fulfilled as part of this. The proximity of roles to the service users can differ, with some working closely with users, whilst some roles work behind the scenes to power the service, never directly interacting with them.

In most organisations roles usually become more tightly defined as they get closer to a user, for example in a call centre. This level of definition can determine the amount of autonomy that staff can have to meet user needs and can sometimes constrict their ability to deliver the service a user needs

Equally, roles are sometimes so closely tied to the operation of systems and infrastructure that change to the role or system become intrinsically linked with one another, making both much harder to iterate and improve.

Overall, services need to be owned. There is a role for making decisions and prioritising needs that a service must meet and ensuring this is regularly reviewed. It is essential, even if the service is delivered by multiple teams and departments that there is a clear empowered role owning the end-to-end service who has the authority to make changes.

How do skills and roles affect the service?

Staff with inadequate skills to deliver an element of a service may delay processes in the user experience

Unskilled or inexperienced staff can put users at risk in a service

A lack of perceived or actual autonomy for staff in their roles can lead to a limit in the ability to meet user needs

The future delivery of a service may be at risk if the skilled workforce is not available

Some systems and infrastructure require such specific skills to operate that over time, both the system and role can become very difficult to change

When services go wrong it can take time to resolve issues if there is not a clear owner for the service to prioritise fixing it

Questions we can ask as leadership

  • What skills does our organisation need to deliver services that meet user needs?
  • What are our key regulatory or legal responsibilities we must ensure are covered by our roles?
  • What skills does our organisation need to meet new or emergent needs in the future?
  • Will our capabilities and roles need to change over time?
  • Who is responsible when our services fail?
  • How and when are roles and responsibilities measured against the user experience?

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

  • Do we have an audit process to gain an understanding of what skills our workforce have?
  • Do we have a clear understanding of the skills and responsibilities needed to run our services effectively?
  • Is there an accredited skill level needed to deliver the user experience and does this differ across different areas of delivery?
  • What skills are we lacking to deliver the current service?
  • Do we have the appropriate financial model in place to afford the right skills to deliver the service in the short to medium and long term?
  • Do people have the right responsibilities enabling them to deliver the service?
  • Are roles flexible enough with autonomy to deliver the service?
  • Are roles and responsibilities clear for staff and users to deliver and use the service?
  • Can responsibilities be flexibly shared?

Information we need to understand before we start designing

  • What are the skills and roles needed in order to deliver the service and help users meet their needs / intended service outcomes?
  • What responsibilities are fixed to a certain role or skillset to run the service we are designing, what are flexible and what are regulatory needs?
  • Do we have a role responsible for owning the service now and in the future?
  • What responsibilities and roles do and can users assume?
  • Do we need more or less roles to deliver the service?
  • Are there gaps in the service provision or user experience that need to be aligned to a responsibility?
  • Are there any unwritten rules or negative power structures that stop staff from delivering the service?
  • Have we designed roles and responsibilities for service failure?
  • Can responsibilities be democratised across staff and/or users?
  • What barriers stop or inhibit people on delivering in their roles?

Measuring performance is a key part of ensuring an organisation is meeting its overall goals. Measuring the outcomes of our services help us understand if we are delivering the impact we set out to deliver, but it also motivates us to do certain things in our organisations too. What we outline as a good outcome for services has an impact on how we design, deliver and monitor our services, and then incentivise this performance.

Most of the targets that an organisation has to meet are based on what the organisation, or whoever governs and funds it, deems to be important and believes will help them to meet their overall end goal. Our measurement frameworks and outcomes can be set by an organisation, defining what they think good looks like for users. Sometimes, this is set out in their policies or articles of association, or explicit targets related to their business model, profitability or Government priorities.

These might be a requirement to do something like improve health, reduce crime or social exclusion in return for credibility and funding to deliver their service. Whatever that target is, it will have a huge impact on the incentivisation of an organisation to deliver something.

Outside of the public sector there are an equal number or standardised ways we can measure performance — from Net Promoter Score (NPS) to Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) in much the same way as many of the public sector targets, these frameworks can help us to set what ‘good’ looks like for our services and measure them across different sectors.

It’s important to recognise though, that what an organisation thinks as ‘good’ outcomes for them is not always what is right or ‘good’ for users.

What we choose to measure in service delivery is important because it outlines what we believe good to look like. When done well, our approach to measurement can support an organisation to improve what it does on a daily basis and continue to improve in meeting user needs. When done poorly, it diverts attention from meeting end user needs.

Measurement, outcomes and the incentivisation of them must be treated very carefully. The implementation of any measurement system from targets to service-level agreements, balance sheet reporting to national performance frameworks can sometimes detract focus from whether or not services are actually delivering the things they need to do for our users. Reporting and the governance of performance data can sometimes become such an overwhelming focus of an organisation’s process that they forget to step back and ask — are we collecting the right data for the right thing in the first place. Is this really helping us improve what we do?

The implementation of performance measurement can operate at a variety of different levels from service level agreements (SLAs) between partners to individual staff targets that might be tied to a bonus scheme. All of these will have an effect on the way the organisation behaves and are vital to align to the organisation’s purpose, and what good looks like for our users.

Overall, the real test of good measurement is if it;

  • is designed around solid evidence on what good means for users
  • helps an organisation improve its offer iteratively
  • is based on collecting and reviewing the right data
  • Incentives in place don’t create divisions in overall delivery

How does measurement and incentives affect the user experience?

How we design and deliver services, and review their performance can be driven by measurements and incentives

Measurement indicators can sometimes be used negatively to show good performance but miss people most in need

What we define as ‘good’ creates a measurement system which in turn, dictates how we design services

Measurement and incentives affect the user experience by driving our attention to who we should and could help, and how.

At a delivery level, measurements and incentives drive behaviour of staff who deliver the user experience

Incentivising individuals or teams to focus on performance can sometimes result in attention away from the user experience

Measurement frameworks can focus us on optimising one part of a service without considering the end to end experience

Questions we can ask as leadership

  • How do we measure what good outcomes look like for our organisation?
  • Do we have evidence to show what good outcomes are for users?
  • What data does our organisation need to collect to understand if we are meeting the right outcomes?
  • Is there any data we can stop collecting that doesn’t help us measure performance?
  • Do the external reporting requirements we have help us meet user needs, and if not, can we influence them?
  • Do we need incentives to improve delivery performance?

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

  • Did our incentive plans improve performance?
  • Who are the right people needed in our organisational governance to review performance?
  • Is the way we report performance helpful to reviewers?
  • How are we performing in relation to others in our sector or wider system?

Information we need to understand before we start designing

  • Have we talked to users about what good outcomes look like for them?
  • What are good outcomes for our users?
  • What evidence base do we have to understand what good outcomes are for users?
  • Do we have evidence or research on what interventions are proven to work for the outcomes we’re seeking to design for?
  • Who governs that outcomes are being met?
  • Can our data collection processes to measure performance be improved?
  • Do we understand what we can and should measure in relation to outcomes?

Who gets to make decisions, and how those decisions are made, shapes our services and the fabric of the organisations that deliver them. It’s therefore hugely important that we know how to influence those decisions as we work to convince people of your vision for what needs to change.

Authority should be treated as a material when a team starts work together and they should strive to find out how it works in relation to what they might need to change.This will help understand how they might be able to influence decision making at the right moment with the right material.

We should be questioning when decisions are made, who really makes them, and what influences those to really consider user needs as well as what decisions have been taken to inform where they entered the programme or project.

Working out who has the ability to make the decisions we need to be made is often not as simple as it seems though.

The ability to make decisions can be explicit in someone’s role within an organisation; where we can recognise that a person has the authority to make certain types of decisions because of their position in our organisational structure.

However, this official ‘authority’ doesn’t automatically give someone the power to action the decisions they make. While someone might have official ‘authority’ for decision making, they might have no available budget to deliver the decision they’ve made, no direct reports or even a low level credibility among more senior peers that impacts their power to make change happen. Likewise someone might have very little official authority within an organisation but be so highly regarded by peers that in reality they wield much more power in decision making than we might assume just by looking at their official role.

This happens because our organisations are social networks, made of real human beings, not just boxes on an org chart. Just like any other social network, some of the people that contribute to our organisations have more influence than others.

Understanding these two forces of authority (the decisions someone is supposed to be able to make) and power (the decisions a person is actually able to make) within our organisations is an important part of negotiating change to happen within a service.

In most typical structures, authority can usually be described as flowing from the top of an organisation to the bottom as part of a hierarchical structure.

In order to get things delivered, particularly at a complex scale of delivery, authority must be distributed evenly throughout your organisation to enable decisions to be taken at the right level. Giving authority away doesn’t mean resolving leaders of their responsibility but empowering those with the most knowledge to make the decisions they need to . Authority can be given by clearly stating what decisions others can take on an individual’s behalf, granting permission and designing in an accountability loop to check in on progress.

Importantly, without making authority levels clear within your organisation, unofficial power can easily take over as the primary means of influencing decisions, making decision making undemocratic and often exclusionary to more diverse groups. Power isn’t always fair and can be more centralised through cliques and close relationships or homogenised group think approaches.

Authority, and the dynamics of power is present in all forms of service design from how we approach designing services, to how services are delivered. Levels of authority can affect staff delivering services for an organisation. where staff feel governed by unwritten rules or by power structures that don’t actually exist, leading to a feeling of a lack of autonomy.

Authority and power also permeate the relationship between service provider and person using a service. For example, there is usually a power dynamic between doctor and a patient. Both have relevant experience and knowledge about an illness in question that can be considered as equal, yet we usually believe there is one set of expertise that is more important than the other. Power structures can easily become unconsciously designed by inherent biases or beliefs, that in turn affect our services. We must always question ourselves and the power dynamics at play when designing services.

Authority and power are inherent in the services we design and we must consciously talk about and design with it in mind or risk these things having an unconscious effect instead.

How does authority affect the service?

Authority has the power to stop investment in our services. If the right case isn’t created that ladders up to business and/or user outcomes then work will not start

The best case can be made for investing in a service to improve it but the actual authority is held by a decision maker who doesn’t value what users need. If authority isn’t clear within an organisation or properly distributed then unofficial power can overtake official authority and decision making becomes an activity for a privileged few, meaning ideas for improving services can be instigated without evidence or those with evidence don’t get taken seriously unless the ideas being put forward are by someone with power.

Questions we can ask as leadership

  • Do we have clear delegated authority in place to enable decisions?
  • What are our key sign-off processes for investment and approvals?
  • Are our power structures clear to the organisation so they understand how and when they can make a case for change to happen?
  • What is the balance between power and authority in our organisation and do we have an absence of clear authority meaning unofficial power is more important?

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

  • Is there a clear delegated authority across the organisation that people can understand?
  • Are we clear on who has responsibility in our team to make decisions?

Information we need to understand before we start designing

  • What power structures exist within our team?
  • What do we need to do to influence the direction of this programme/project/service?
  • Who needs to be influenced?
  • What will really influence decision makers to focus on users?
  • What power structures and dynamics exist in the system we’re designing?
  • Are we designing dominant models of power into our design — can we challenge it?
  • Who has power in the situation we are designing and is this a good or bad thing?
  • Who are the decision makers in relation to the services we are trying to design?
  • Who’s not ‘in the room’ that has the real authority to make the decision
  • What’s the chain of authority in the organisation or system to get sign off on our asks?
  • Where and when do decision makers with authority to sign off asks meet?

Founder @wearesnook @dearestscotland @cycle_hack @mypolice | Service Designer + Boss | GOOD Magazine’s Top 100 influencers 2016|Google Democracy Fellowship 2011

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