Service Design for Government
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transformation of government services

Services at the Tip of the Spear

We got through “WHY”, now let’s talk “WHAT”

In our last post, we argued that the government is foremost a service organization. While the statement itself may not seem particularly revolutionary, accepting government as services has some important implications.

If you accept government as a service provider then you also accept that governments have customers and those customers have expectations. This implies that customers make a choice whether or not to engage with the services provided by government. As a program manager and leader, it is important to understand these principles whether you provide a public-facing service or an internal service within a specific Department or Agency.  In this article, we survey the aspects of a public sector organization that could benefit from a service-oriented approach.

The operational component of an organization is almost always the best candidate for a service-oriented approach; improvements in core operations are the best way to drive better mission outcomes. This is the tip of the spear, if you will, for organizations and should have the most direct connection with carrying out the core mission of the agency. They benefit from having a clear service definition and direct contact with their customers.

For many (but not all) agencies, the people that support operations carry out their work in the public view – federal law enforcement officers, judges, diplomats, or job safety inspectors – can more easily name the direct beneficiaries of the services they provide. Continually operating in the public eye is not always glorious – it means that bad customer experiences are immediately scrutinized and business processes are continually measured for consistency, reliability, and fairness. For these reasons, the operations that execute the core mission of the organization present tremendous opportunity to focus on how what these services actually are and how they are designed and delivered.

As an operational program manager, you should assess how your organization is structured to deliver a positive service experience in line with your Congressional and Executive charters:

  • Charter. What is the essential mission in our charter and what outcomes (outside the program) will indicate how well we are accomplishing this mission? Everything begins here.
  • Workforce. People are the essence of every service business – they conceive and design the services for customers and they are also the primary means of delivery. Service businesses have substantially different needs from manufacturing or resource extraction businesses because your people must be equipped to interact with one of the most complex systems inexistence – another person! The talent that you are able to attract, develop, promote, and retain are the advocates of your organization’s culture. As operators, these are the truest representations of your brand to your customers and therefore, the recruiting, hiring, training, promoting, and retaining this talent must be grounded in the culture and business needs of the organization.
  • Business Processes. Service-oriented processes should be designed to produce outcomes, not outputs. An outcome has value associated with it that will benefit the end user. This requires that you have an ongoing appreciation for the customers’ needs. Understanding the journey that your customer goes through when they interface with your business processes and noting the points where they are truly delighted and the points where they get frustrated is a key first step.
  • Internal Partnerships. In our next piece, we will dive into some of the enabling activities that work in the background to keep the operations afloat. In these cases, the operator is their customer and you should have the same service expectations as your customers. In this case, manage the relationships with those service providers to ensure that your needs are sufficiently articulated and that you are providing sufficient input to their services to give them the opportunity to serve the broader mission more effectively.
  • Portfolio, Program, and Project Management. Individual successes of service-orientation should certainly be celebrated but are not necessarily the end-game. Developing a service-oriented experience for customers across all platforms where you do business authentically represents that being service-minded is permeating your culture.
  • Performance Management.  As an experienced operator, you inherently know the operational indicators that drive success on a specific mission or project.  Understanding what makes that service sustainable over the long-term and how to deliver repeatable results requires a broader focus.  Correlating measurements of customer outcomes to measurements of internal operations to measurements of workforce development is critical to effective service delivery.  This approach requires that you balance objective operational metrics equally to the softer, qualitative elements of innovation, professional development, and customer intent to transact.
  • Stakeholder Outreach and Engagement.  This is a node for listening and for projecting.  When an organization understands itself as a service business, it naturally becomes more sensitive and responsive to customer needs and input.  If your mission is too complex to easily understand, then as yourself what you are doing to demystify it for the consumption of the broader population.  This also brings clarity and focus to strategy and operations, allowing agency messages become easier to articulate and communicate.  Organizations should be able to discuss in detail what it is doing for whom and how well it is doing it.  This ultimately allows citizens and their elected representatives to make better judgments about the value delivered for specific portions of our social contract.


In our next piece, we will explore some of the enabling activities that work to keep operations rolling.  As always, we welcome your thoughts in the comments below or to