Set up your service design team – design ops approach

Catalina Bonavia | 2 September 2020


It’s no secret that customer experience is a key factor for selecting the businesses we want to deal with, as consumers or as employees...

As it turns out, organisations that focus on the customer will on average double the revenue growth than those who don’t. So it’s no surprise that organisations of all sizes are starting to build their own in-house experience design team.

But how do you build a service design team that actually works in terms of delivering value to the business?

First things first, as an internal consulting team you need to think about who your customers are, what they need and what makes them tick. 

For example, when building the employee experience team at a university we had different key customers: 

  • The People & Culture team was the ‘project owner’, basically they were the ones asking the EX team to solve problems such as increasing cross-functional collaboration. Their key metric, like any other people and culture team, was to increase employee retention and workplace happiness, but they also wanted to increase some other key metrics indicated in the engagement survey. 
  • The Student Experience team are the custodians of the university’s end customer and therefore every change in the employee experience could impact their function. Their concern was to increase all the metrics related to the student learning experience, engagement and wellbeing.
  • The Employees themselves were our end users, they are the people that we were designing for. It was their needs that we needed to address and what’s interesting is that their ‘metrics’ weren’t necessarily aligned with HR’s objectives – we discovered that some drivers for them were for example career progression, involvement in the workplace, and learning from others, and
  • We also had other clients such as the Communications and Continuous Improvement teams when they needed to redesign the staff website, in this case, the drivers were attached to that project but also to their own team’s metrics.

Understanding what makes your stakeholders tick is critical for giving them the services they need, to communicate what they care about in a rhythm that works for them and for your team.

Once the team was established it was essential to find our own ways of working to grow and deliver even more value to the organisation.

Design ops helps you do this by looking at the following three key areas:

1. How do we work together? A team is not a group of people where each person does their own thing, a team is a group of people that collaborates, shares ideas and works towards a common goal together. So you need to work out what working together looks like for your team.

a. Organise: What capabilities do you need? From those ones which ones do you have and which ones do you need to grow? What is related to a team member such as visual design and which ones need to be across such as knowledge sharing. What roles do you need and how do those roles work together? 

b. Collaborate: Creating collaborative environments goes beyond a shared drive, you design for real moments of thinking together, bouncing ideas, creating a culture where sharing is a way of succeeding as a team. A key thing to keep in mind here is psychological safety, because who would want to share an idea if they are going to be judged? Remember introverts and extroverts have brilliant ideas, but some people find it more challenging to share them, structured workshops can help there!

c. Humanise: Discuss with your team members what values they want to live, see and breathe when they come to work. You want that place to be their happy, safe space so that they thrive! Building a social contract and workshopping the team values and how to demonstrate them (or not) builds a sense of belonging and helps create the design family that you want!


2. How does our work get done? What are the tools and methods that your team has to deliver for the work tasked to do? Accountants use spreadsheets and book-keeping software to do their work, they have their rules and processes, well your design team needs their equivalent in order to structure their work and ensure that you get expected results.

a. Standardise: Create your design principles, those that will guide your decision-making process. You can have a look at the 15 principles of good service design by Low Downe to get some inspiration, but ensure that they are actionable and usable, don’t say ‘create simple designs’ what simple means to you may differ from what it means to me. Think about your internal processes, after all, it needs to be a repeatable process (it can change over time, but it still needs to be a process)

b. Grow: create your own design systems, templates and research repositories, you don’t want to do the same research over and over again, you want to build over it and keep learning new things, so think how you will ensure that your previous research is accessible and usable for future projects.

c. Prioritise: how would you manage your backlog? Who decides what project gets prioritised over others and why? You can do this with your key stakeholders and your team using an impact vs effort matrix to define which things can wait, which ones are really easy and can be done on a Friday afternoon and which ones need to be broken down into simpler tasks.


3. How does our work create an impact? Measuring the impact that your work has internally and how it helps create impact externally is key to keep team and stakeholder motivation and engagement, but also to learn and improve, and to demonstrate the value of your team within the organisation. The 3 key steps here are:

a. Define: What are your goals and objectives? How are they related to the overall strategy and performance of the company? 

b. Measure: What gets measured gets done! Once you know what the team needs to achieve, define the metrics that will tell you if you are leaning towards success or if you need to adjust. Remember to look at your metrics in a period of time that allows you to iterate when needed, if you look at them 2 days before the end of the financial year it may be too late to change.

c. Share: By telling the success stories you inspire your team and other business areas to keep working and doing an amazing job! So, don’t forget to do this in a way that showcases: learnings, impact and effort!

Remember to maintain a flexible, growth mindset because when it comes to establishing a new way of working, it takes time. Remember to always test and learn, so that you are ensuring that it’s really working for you and you’re not just doing what the textbook says.

To sum up, always keep in mind that your service design team’s goal is to deliver a service that solves its customer’s pain points and adds value. The secret to achieving that is connecting your customer experience with your process and technology.