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"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein

Service Design

Making organisations human – Addressing the Fragmentation of Organisations

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In my previous two posts, I’ve been reflecting on my work over the years in the design of products, services, and organisational systems. I’ve called the overall effect of these design projects, “making organisations human.” I looked at the effect humanising an organisation has on its customers; that it breaks down the divide between ‘producers’ and ‘consumers’, helps organisations understand the exact value they offer customers, tracks changes in customer needs, and helps the organization prioritise internal project work in response.

In this post I’m going to focus on the effect of these design projects on those employed by an organisation, both in terms of how they can change the experience for their customers, and how it shapes their own role in the organisation.

There are various ways employees contribute to what the organisation offers, depending on the part they play in the production or delivery of the product or service. However, employees often come up with questions or ideas for improving the organisation – and its offer­ – that require access to multiple parts of the organisation to explore or test.

This is where things get difficult.

It is common for discussions about how to make organisations more innovative to centre on the development of ‘more creative and impactful ideas’ or ‘better understanding of our customers’. In reality however, the people who work throughout these organisations have quite a lot of ideas and quite a bit of understanding of the customers they interact with. The problem is that they can’t access the necessary parts of the organisation they need to contribute these ideas and their understanding and turn them into new product or service delivery.

Innovative ideas and customer empathy are often spread across an organization, harnessing these can be ad hoc, unstructured, and get lost in the everyday running of the organisation. All this value for the organisation is trapped in its different parts. And those working in the organisation know this challenge. The feeling of working against ‘the system’.

This is a challenge that I have been engaged with for a number of years. We here at DNA are constantly meeting incredibly intelligent and driven people, who are limited by the fragmentation of their organisation.

In a recent project for a large corporate, we were redesigning ways the business was communicating and interacting with its customers. The project team was formed from across a number of core functions, which helped them gain a deeper understanding of how the roles within the business worked together to deliver value to its customers. With this view the team was able to quickly create solutions to be validated with customers. Some of the team members were amazed at the speed at which new digital prototypes were being built, tested with customers and other parts of the organisation.

The project provided a way to quickly build and ‘flesh out’ the ideas people had, to see if everyone is on the same page, and create better solutions with more information. It is an experience loved by employees who get to contribute in ways beyond the limits of their roles and the usual organization dynamics.

As with this example, the project teams we form inside organisations, as we design a new or better products or services, get immersed and engaged in the ‘project experience’. They get to be involved in shaping the solution, but also often the part of the organisation that shapes their life each working week. Having the chance to do this, and to see their organisation change shape slightly in response to what they offer, makes people feel less like they are in a big machine, and more in a human-led organization, one they can make a tangible contribution to.

In the final post in this series I’m going to focus on the people of the organisation in positions of senior leadership. It turns out that the mechanical ways in which organisations commonly operate focuses an overwhelming amount of pressure on these senior roles. So I am going to look at how some of the leaders I’ve worked with have responded, and made their organisations more human.

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