How to design a service

Designing a product or service takes time, patience and perseverance. Getting it right you’ll create something customers love. Here’s some simple tips to keep in mind when setting out on your own product or service design journey.

1. Be clear on your proposition

Identify what you’re offering the customer and what problems your proposition is going to solve for them. Think of propositions like a 30 second radio advert. In that ad you hear a problem and a corresponding solution that could be a product or service. Propositions are what businesses offer to consumers to answer a need. They remove pain and provide gain.

A proposition should be simple to understand and contain attributes that describe the type of service or experience a customer can expect. Every proposition should be based on a story bringing to life the insight that generated the problem and solution fit.

2. Leverage your Design Principles

Design principles are there to guide your design and help make decisions easier. They define the rules you want to abide by and will reduce the amount of conflict you and your design team will encounter. Principles guide decision making, but do not give the definitive answer to what action needs to be taken. They should be solution neutral and instead provide the team with guardrails within which design decisions can be made.

A good example of a Design Principle would be ‘Accessible support as standard’ — meaning the customer should be able to access support at any point in their product or service experience. You’ll notice the principle doesn’t say what type of support, the channel it should be in or what technology you might deploy. The principle allows those working in a cross functional team to rigorously judge designs put in front of them to determine whether the principles are being adhered to.

(I’ll post more soon on Design Principles so keep following for updates).

3. Think end-to-end and invest in moments that matter

Designing end-to-end means having to think about every step of the experience from discovery through to onboarding, first use, seeking support and repeat use. Avoid the common pitfall of investing all your energy one part of the experience leaving the rest to chance. A good support experience is just as important as any sales or onboarding experience. It’s a good support experience that will keep your customer for life. Map out the experience and be clear on the moments that are the proof points for your proposition. (see example below)

4. Collaborate cross-functionally from the very beginning

Your product or service will cut across multiple teams and domains. Bring your product, sales, marketing and customer operations teams together at the very beginning. Some might not be actively involved until much later but having everyone on the same page at the beginning will make a big difference.

If your company operates in a mixed environment of agile and waterfall then do your best to bring these teams together to develop collaboratively and to run efforts in parallel to accelerate delivery. Avoid the pitfall of key teams not being involved until just prior to launch or worse after the event. Do everything you can to ensure the final shipped product or service has all teams engaged and with necessary capabilities in place.

5. Co-create with customers

Don’t invest too much time and effort in designing and building your service without first conducting some simpler low fidelity tests. Getting customers in at the beginning will ensure you design a customer-centric experience that hits all the right notes. Spending time in their environment while testing and validating ideas will garner valuable insight that will guide your designs. You should use prototypes and mock environments to test out your ideas. I’ve even seen lego deployed with success.

In my experience, customers will happily tell you what you’ve got right and more importantly what you’ve got wrong.

6. Build, test and refine in increments

You don’t need to deploy your new service in one go. You can split the experience up and work to deliver it in increments. You might even start to deliver certain parts or updates through a release process. Think of a minimal viable product or service like a cake. On making a lemon sponge your first attempt will still look and taste like a lemon sponge but over time it will improve as you perfect the recipe.

For any new service, start small and limit those impacted to a small group where you have better control over any missteps that might occur. If replacing a service, run the new and old in parallel to ensure you have a fallback operation. It will also allow you to conduct A/B tests to assess performance.

You should only migrate once you are confident the service is ready to take an increase in users. Be very careful with managing user expectations so that you don’t burn through potential customers with a poor experience. This can often happen when companies charge for a product or service that is sub-optimal. Beware delivering a poorly designed product or service that is high in emotional and financial investment such as a holiday.

7. Be ruthless about technical and operational debt

Technical and operational debt is inevitable especially when you’re developing at speed. However, don’t ship your service and then quickly move on. Ensure you have resources dedicated to working through the backlog of debt that needs addressing. Some of it will be solved in later product or service releases but ignoring it will only breed customer frustration and dissatisfaction. Like financial debt in the real world it is necessary, but when ignored can mean your downfall.

8. Stay in sync with your Enterprise Architecture and Information Technology teams

No doubt your new service or product is part of a larger strategy but make sure you stay close to your enterprise architecture and information technology teams. They may be looking at enterprise wide capabilities and solutions that you could leverage. Your IT and EA team will know what capabilities exist and what is reusable or available to you. You might not even be aware of opportunities. This is often the case when businesses have deployed commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions.

When developing or improving an existing service, knowing the state of your capabilities will help you and other teams plan ahead for the future. You can use the experience map you designed earlier to keep tabs on the experience you want to deliver and the status of your foundational capabilities and technology. For planning purposes, label what capabilities exist, need amending or are missing and either need to be built or bought in.

9. Start with quality then consider cost

Focus on quality above all else. Of course costs are important and running a high cost product or service with little or no margin is a non-starter. However, by focusing on quality first you can design your ideal experience and then use technology and other tactics to bring the costs down to an acceptable level. Over time, capabilities like automation will mean some upfront investment will pay dividends much later on.

10. Be clear on what success and done looks like

Define your measures of success and in particular any metrics you want to track or targets you are looking to achieve. An important aspect at the start of the project is to align on a common definition of done. This means having the team all aligned in terms of what the end product or service looks like on launch day. Of course things will evolve over time but having a shared understanding for what done looks like will help the team close in on a target and know when they have achieved it.

Above all, developing or improving a product or service is an exciting project that doesn’t come around that frequently. See and enjoy it! 👌 🥳

If you want to learn more give me shout. You can find me on Medium and LinkedIn. 👨🏼‍💻

Photography used on experience maps include writers own and images taken from Unsplash. Kudos to Tristan Colangelo and Roman Kraft 😁

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Work in travel tech. A fan of applying disruptive thinking to age old problems. Passions include writing, reading, ski touring and travel. Opinions are mine.

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Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts

Work in travel tech. A fan of applying disruptive thinking to age old problems. Passions include writing, reading, ski touring and travel. Opinions are mine.

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