Services as a set of promises

Every service is a set of promises for a job to be done. Each promise covers motivations, expectations, arrangements and agreements. The motivations and expectations are from people and things. The agreements are between people and the arrangements between things.

Together the promises set up the performances and affordances that fulfill needs as and when supply engages demand. The engagement defines the experience each side goes through, and the fulfillment produces the outcome each side gets. Engagement leads to fulfillment, and experiences lead to outcomes. Thus, every service is a set of four promises.

  • Demand for performance, or the task to be performed
  • Supply for performance, or the activity that performs the task
  • Demand for affordance, or the need to have access to a resource
  • Supply for affordance, or the resource made available for access

Each promise is itself a subassembly of four parts covering the prospects, the potential, the actual and the material, or quite simply the matters of who makes the promise, why they make it, how the promise is kept, and what each side goes through to keep the promise, and what they get.  Below is a rough sketch of the concept of service in graphical form.


When services fail to meet expectations

Why do some services succeed where others fail? It comes down to the promises being made. Services are a set of promises made by two or more parties on two sides. These promise need to come together to be kept. This coming together of all the different parts is not without uncertainty and risk.

The whole is other than the sum of its parts ~ Kurt Koffka

A service is other than the sum of its parts. That is, it can be less than or greater than the sum of the four promises. Each promise as itself as a whole is other than the sum of its four parts: Who, why, how and what, or prospect, potential, actual and material. Thus every service has 16 elements or logical parts (or thoughts as per the fourth order of design) making even the simplest of services a complex system. Through dialog and interaction the various elements of supply and demand influence each other, co-producing the performances and affordances that produce the outcomes and experiences.

When any one of the 16 parts fail, one of the four promises fail, one or more of the promises fail. That means a failure in demand, supply, performance or affordance. That means the service as a system fails.  Therefore, it’s not only possible to approach the design of a service from a systems perspective, it is also necessary. That makes systems thinking useful in the design, development, and implementation of services.


Filed under: definition, philosophy, theory, thoughts


TL;DR I can audit the design of a service to prevent or predict systemic failure, using a proprietary method called 16F I make intractable problems, tractable by reframing them. I then design solutions that won't create problems elsewhere, now or in the future. The solutions are in the form of services. I focus on system-level structures that give meaning and purpose to the design of lower-level constructs such as processes, interfaces, and interactions. I've spent the last 10 years obsessed with the questions: What are services? Why do they fail? Why do they exist? I'm now writing a book. Design is my dogma. Curiosity is my doctrine. Industrial engineering is my discipline. @mxiqbal

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