Service Design for Government
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How to Tidy Up Your Government Services

The Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo has taken 2019 by storm in part because it acknowledges that we all get so carried away with the things we acquire that we rarely have time to take a step back and ask why we need them. But armed with her KonMari method, Marie Kondo offers some simple tools to take back control and focus on things that are truly important.

Tidying Up got us thinking: a cluttered house and a cluttered government service portfolio have a lot of similarities. And with that in mind, how might we add a KonMari layer to our practice of service management and apply it to the work we do in government?

Consequences of a cluttered service-portfolio

Government managers are under constant pressure to improve performance and reduce the costs of the services they deliver. Under the guise of continuous improvement, agencies get caught in the allure of shiny new solutions despite the lack of new funding or resources. With all of the “buying” and none of the purging, these service portfolios start to look like the clothes closets at the beginning of a Tidying Up episode: overflowing, disorganized collections of garments complete with ugly sweaters, random brimmed hats, and a bunch of old pants that don’t fit.

In government, the immediate consequences of untidy service portfolios are angry customers and declines in service performance. Managers then rely on their help desks to detect the most emergent problem areas and triage customer issues before things spiral out of control.

There are also long-term mission impacts when a service portfolio gets cluttered. Energy and resources are constantly diverted towards competing priorities and this means customers are not being fully served somewhere else. Managers begin to lose sight of the true costs of service delivery and what it takes to deliver an exceptional customer experience. This is not the  way to sustain loyal customers long-term but it is today’s reality for many government programs and services.

What “sparks joy” for government services?

When you empty that closet and begin culling through the volcano-like pile of clothes on the bed, Marie Kondo’s “spark joy” principle is straightforward. Unless you have an emotional connection to an item–a little zing of happiness when you hold it–get rid of it. Government service managers, however, have to consider factors well beyond whether a service delivers an emotional connection.

Customers use government services to achieve some kind of result or outcome. Government services “spark joy” when they meet the needs of customers and achieve the overarching policy objectives. Services have to be relevant, be usable, and deliver an exceptional experience.

How do you know if your portfolio needs tidying?

Cluttered service portfolios can sneak up on us because new requirements grow organically over time. Small, incremental additions eventually dilute the services being offered until the services cannot be sustainably managed.

Having a documented catalog of the service offerings and a governance process for adding or retiring services is one way to manage service creep. Monitoring customer behavior is another way to detect whether the service portfolio is being diluted. Low customer engagement or abandonment may indicate that the services being offered are not relevant to the problems customers are trying to solve.

Five steps to tidying your government service portfolio

Tidying up a government service portfolio simply means making decisions about which services provide the biggest value to customers in the context of the agency mission. By choosing to invest in the services that matter most to customers, we then free up resources by stopping services that are of little or no value. We have five recommended steps to tidying:

1. Define “spark joy” for your customers

Services that are designed to be easy maximize value for the customer and give the service provider the best shot of delivering the service in a cost efficient way. The specific definition of “easy” varies for each service.

Service designers immerse themselves in the customer’s world through both quantitative and qualitative analysis to define what “sparks joy” for the customer. This could be factors like speed, availability, security, or privacy. Grounded in this understanding, service designers can determine how well each unique service contributes to the things that matter most to customers.

2. Empty the closet

Service portfolios often resemble cluttered closets in that this year’s fashions bury last year’s trends. Yet, for many psychological reasons, we can’t bring ourselves to part with our now-useless purchases. Likewise, services that outlive their relevance but continue operating in the background drain limited resources. Simplifying a service portfolio to make it easy for the customer means disentangling each service and discreetly defining its value.

The way you “empty the closets” in government services is by cataloging each service in your portfolio. Pull each of these services out into the open by cataloging each one. This task can be fraught with challenges, especially among mature enterprise portfolios. Services can share the same name but behave very differently depending on the people, process, technology, content, and environment in which they operate. Each of these factors potentially impacts how easy it is for customers to use the service and how efficiently it can be delivered.

Once each service has been cataloged individually, it is now possible to document the cost to deliver each individual service and determine its perceived value to customers.

3. Decide what to keep

A service designer’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for customers to use the services. This requires eliminating unnecessary complexity from the customer journey. This is complexity that can come from redundancies, dependencies, inconsistencies, gaps, and just plain confusion of who is responsible for doing what. Before we can truly simplify each service, the initial service catalog may need to be refined and consolidated several times before it resembles the intended service model.

One successful technique is to marry the newly forming service catalog to a customer journey map which visually depicts how each individual service aligns with customer experience. This is a powerful tool for service design teams because it informs how customers perceive value at specific touchpoints. It also points to the underlying processes, technologies, and talent that are responsible for delivering the value.

Through this process, the service design team begins to zero in on the components that contribute to the overall customer experience and ultimately drive intended customer behavior.

4. Evaluate each piece

As the service catalog begins to reflect the reality of what is being delivered to customers, there is still a need to determine the marginal cost associated with delivering the customer experience. Technical Assent recommends using a pair-wise comparison that results in a ranking of each service relative to the others in the service catalog. We use two criteria–cost and perceived customer value–as shown in the diagram.

This visualization enables the service design team to understand the marginal costs and benefits of specific services in the context of their respective contributions to the customer journey.

5. Develop the service strategy

When a service portfolio is segmented this way, it sets up a productive dialogue among the service design team members and new management strategies emerge. It forces the team to consider the marginal benefit of increasing perceived customer value compared to the marginal cost. It also lends itself to relevant exploratory questions such as “what needs do our customers have that we don’t address?” The table to the right demonstrates four possible strategies that may emerge from these conversations.


Next steps

In a resource-scarce environment, it is critical that government service managers focus on achieving overarching policy objectives through a portfolio of services that delivers the biggest impact to its customers. This requires that managers, who are often policy experts, invest deeply to understand the needs and motivations of their customers.

New concepts emerge when customer preferences for relevance, usability, experience, and ease marry with a service delivery model that values efficiency, consistency, and reliability. Innovative government solutions spark joy when they address what customers care about most and meet the mission needs.

Technical Assent has consulted with numerous federal government agencies to redesign their service portfolios based on customer experience. Read more about service design in these articles.

In Government Service Design-Thinking, Thinking Like the Customer is not Enough

Avoiding the Sugar Crash of IT Modernization

This Simple Meeting Hack Helps a Problem-Solving Team Refocus on Their Customers

Video: Design Thinking Explained

Sometimes helping kids with homework takes a little out-of-the-box thinking! Design thinking, that is.

In this video, I help my son, Vinny, build a boat for his kindergarten water day by applying the principles of design thinking. It was a fun project for both of us and a great way to illustrate the basics of design thinking.

More articles from Technical Assent about design thinking:

In Government Service Design, Thinking Like Your Customer Is Not Enough

Avoiding the Sugar Crash of IT Modernization

Making Virtual Design-Thinking Efforts Effective in Government

Epic Presentation-Fail Yields Real-World Prototyping Lessons for Government

exploring what

Services “As a Service”

Delivering capability “As A Service” has significant potential to impact the service sector but has minimal adoption outside of the Technology industry. We explore the relevant themes (minus the IT jargon) to see the broader impact of an “As a Service” model and discover how this focus enables a shift from doing work to delivering outcomes.

Way back in 2008, it seemed everyone in the tech sector was rushing to coin the next great cloud computing offering – Software As A Service (SaaS), Infrastructure As A Service (IaaS), Platform As A Service (PaaS), Everything As A Service (XaaS). As the term has evolved, something delivered “As a Service” has come to mean something very specific; different from just saying “We deliver X,Y, or Z services”. Delivering software services could mean any number of things related to the design, operations, and management of software but delivering “Software As A Service” describes a service model that has a distinct value proposition.

Introducing Lawn Care as a Service (LCAAS)

This relatively simple concept can make a significant impact on a customer, the service provider, and even the industry. Let’s use Lawn Care to illustrate the broader application of the “As a Service” concept. If a customer purchases “Lawn Care Services” in the traditional sense, he expects to negotiate with his service provider about how often the grass should be mowed. The service provider expects to meet her obligation by cutting according to the prescribed schedule. In this type of arrangement, if the lawn dies, the service provider has little, if any, ownership of the problem as long as she cuts the grass according to the schedule everyone agreed on. Likewise, other competitors in the market have trouble distinguishing themselves beyond price.

But there is a new entrant looking to disrupt the market and begins to offer “Lawn Care As a Service“; she resets her customers performance expectations and provides an entirely unique experience. Instead of discussing which day of the week to mow, she tells her customer he should expect to pull into his driveway every day and be greeted by a healthy lawn. In addition to cutting the the grass to an appropriate height, she also includes complementary services that contribute to maintaining a vibrant green color, minimizing the presence of weeds or the infestation of certain pests. These included services may include watering, fertilizing, bug control; they are turned on or off as needed in order to produce the outcome for the customer.

The customer pays for the outcome of the service (healthy grass and curb appeal) within specified performance parameters. As long as that outcome is met, he doesn’t need to think about how many people were onsite cutting the lawn, whether they used a weed whacker or a push mower, or whether the chemical formulation for the fertilizer was better suited to Spring or Summer. The parameters create mutually agreeable tolerances which both customer and provider are comfortable with. They may help reduce the customers’ risk or give the service provider some freedom to optimize her operations. In this example they may require the service provider to warrant that all people who visit his home are covered under her insurance policy and wear appropriate safety equipment or that the watering schedule will adhere to the county’s water conservation guidelines. And in exchange for this added peace of mind, the customer is willing to pay a premium.

An “As a Service” model provides a platform for service innovation

Oriented towards an “As a Service” model, providers can more accurately describe a portfolio of capabilities in terms of the problem it solves (utility), the terms & conditions of its performance (warranty), its costs, and its value. Services are thought of as modular and self-contained units of capability and have everything they need to produce a specified outcome and communicate with its peers in the value chain. These have significant impact to the business of services in the following ways:

Optimize the Business Model. As service providers think about delivering their capability “As a Service”, they recognize the core services needed for their business model to thrive. Likewise, they identify those services that could be potentially provided by a partner or specialist. They key in on overlapping capabilities, redundancies, and even logical gaps in how their service portfolio is being delivered today. Alternatives can be evaluated strategically in terms of how they impact the competitive position of the business in the market.

Fine Tuned Performance Control. Because of the way the services are segmented and described in the first place, service providers have an immediate understanding of the mechanics, the interactions, and the contribution to the bottom line of each service at the time of launch. Services assembled in this way provide agility and responsiveness that corresponds with changes in customer demand.

Business Insight. Services are defined in terms of both their value and cost structure, so business leaders have immediate understanding of the expected contribution to the organization’s bottom line. They can create an entirely new capability by linking services together in new and interesting ways and have an understanding of its expected financial performance.

Platform for Innovation. Finally, “As A Service” provides a tremendous new platform for differentiation and competitive advantage. As service offerings become more and more commoditized, understanding and designing services around a unique customer experience can be a source of pure innovation. The “As a Service” model forces providers to think in customer terms, design the services that best suit existing and prospective customers, and clearly communicate the customer outcomes fulfilled by the services.