Small disturbances

The need to deliver superior sets of outcomes and experiences is constant over the lifecycle of a service offering. Services need to get a job done better than not just competitors but also customers because their ability to do-it-yourself (DIY) is always an option. Indeed, new solutions in the market create competition when they make DIY more attractive and reduce the need for a service. This makes the design of a service never good enough and never complete, because the components of demand may yet require change. Customer needs change for manufactured goods as well, but manufacturers have time to adjust.

Services are products of concurrently projected supply and demand, therefore changes on either side have an immediate effect. The synchronous nature of services makes them riskier to produce than an equivalently complex product from manufacturing. In every design there is residual risk that materializes as costs, often in unexpected ways. Service providers must either absorb these costs, or pass them on to customers. Passing on costs simply introduces the risk of competition from other services or DIY.

Therefore, the design of a service is subject to constant change. However, change can be a destabilizing force, with unintended consequences adding new risk. The methods of service design should be such that they introduce change and innovation that the service more attractive to both sides, and at the same time reduce costs and risks and keep them stable below a threshold. What’s the smallest amount of change we can introduce for greatest amount of impact in terms of outcomes and experiences, at the lowest possible cost and risk? What aspect or element of design can we change so that other elements can be the same?

Some of the best designs are beautiful variants and innovative more in terms of the new effect they produce, rather than radical change. Across the Boeing 737 family of aircraft, we can see decades of design in incremental changes leading to the 737MAX. Strategists use the idea of adjacent possible to identify opportunities for growth through expansion into new market spaces. Design is the ultimate expression of strategy, therefore it the means to transfer knowledge, skills and experience to a space.

It requires creativity and imagination to systematically introduce change to design without also introducing systemic or structural risk. We need to consider change from multiple perspectives. We need to generate and explore many options from a few critical parameters. We need to see how a change in element of the system might affect another with “if this then that”. We need to see differences in similarities, and similarities in differences. “This is like that”. We need to see early more clearly.

All the effort put through multidisciplinary methods, tools and techniques, can still lead to the “relatively complicated scripts” that fail, if enough of the detail is either superficial or superfluous. That should not be the case. Design can be simple, flexible, and strong if our thinking is sophisticated. We could learn from in biology. The design of a service should be more adaptive and open to change, so we can make it more hardy and resistant to failure, by grafting elements of design from other services.

Being able to visualize design in terms of a few key parameters also helps establish cause-and-effect relationships between design elements and failures. Introduced in the 1960s, as part of the quality movement, the Ishikawa diagram made it possible to map defects in any manufactured product to six major categories. We should be able to do the same for services, with the eight design perspectives across four categories of failure. Mazda Motors used an Ishikawa diagram to focus on the few aspects of design that produce the effect of “horse and rider as one” for its very successful Miata. We should be able to do the same with services.

To make the design of a service less prone to failure, it needs to be more flexible and strong and therefore more adaptive and open to change, and therefore simpler and more sophisticated.

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