Living Services : Getting out of the Abstraction Business
We’ve all seen the elaborate blueprints that are popular in our practice. The forest of fluorescent post-it™ notes every emotional peak or trough in a current experience. These can be things of beauty or resemble the ramblings for a Beautiful Mind. Ever since, I commissioned experience map I became cynical and that has only grown for a number of reasons. The biggest doubt comes from relying on documentation. This seems completely at odds with the hegemony of agile and lean in service production. Rather than documentation this approach (agile/lean) focuses on continuous, incremental and frugal upgrades from Minimal Viable Service to Sustainable Living Service. In other words, ginalised, complex and appealing ‘Pixel Pushing’ produced ‘maps’, blueprints’ and schemas demonstrate ‘Deliverables Bloat’ rather than leanness.
Instead, of aliging to that prevailing approach, the focus of much service design is abstracting surface-level signs of a service into ‘Blueprints’ (Shostack, 1982). As static snapshots of activity these to some extent undermine the primacy of Living Services. The blueprints also embody an architectural metaphor where interactions track to fixed paths and lacks relevance to living services where agency replaces ‘journey’s. The notion of dynamically created and evolving services is to some extent counter to the orthodoxy which focuses on mapping extant to future prescribed services. Service design artefacts don’t integrate well with the needs of service engineers, producers and developers. While blueprints may exemplify design craft (they look good and useful) they don’t map to service architectures and platforms that are integral to service delivery and operations.
There is a deeper question on service design deliverables. Why do we need them at all? If the goal is to improve an existing service (i.e. not Green Field Design) then practitioners should operate ‘In Service’ rather than separate from it or via any form of abstracted knowledge. This would mean truly participatory design (with service agents) not before production but within it. There is a risk is that short, incremental change may not build to strategic positive service transformation. A structured framework for delivering agile service design, would help. This would begin with founding projects on the basis of a Minimum Viable Service (MVS). An MVS focuses on enabling access to a simplified, stripped down version of the service. Such a proposition is by nature basic and supports a few use cases, but is built to ensure it enables core functions and proves the viability of the service. An MVS is, however, more than a conceptual proof of concept. Its adoption and use enables early data collection that can help develop richer features, but more importantly enables mapping service supply and demand data. In this sense, a simple digitalised entry point for healthcare becomes the first manifestation of a Living Service, where data is used to enrich the experience and start to build a critical mass of users. Having established a strong and sustainable user community, the next phase of Minimum Living Service (MLS). This is focused on delivering an optimised experience that can drive broad adoption. Finally, a Living Sustainable Service focuses on facilitating value co-creation and operational excellence.