11 April 2018

Finding the purpose of a service in four steps

In my last post and the one before I discussed the importance of purpose, and the perspective it should be considered from.  Here I'm going to share some tips I've learned to help others define a purpose of a service – set out in four steps. 

1. Gather people together from different parts of the service
A service is normally made up of teams and people performing different functions (a common aspect of a command and control design).  When you split a service like this, the people in each function tend to become like characters from Rashomon, with different views about what the service exists to do as a whole.  It's helpful to bring those views together, and start aligning them around a common purpose.

2. Ask them what the purpose is
I've adapted an activity Dan Pink does.  Ask everyone "what is the purpose of [this service]?" and  instruct them to write it on Post-It notes.  Stick the answers up, and read them out.  (In local government, I've often had answers like "to carry out our statutory duties to..."   They are used to taking an internal perspective rather than a customer one). Next, have a discussion and agree a working definition of purpose.

At this point I've made mistakes.  I've been impatient.  I've wanted them to nail the purpose too early on, and wasted time debating the issue and getting nowhere. 

3. Go and study demand
Instruct the team to observe customer demands on the service.  Listen to phone calls, observe face-to-face conversations, read emails, etc.  Write down each demand in the customer's own words.  Consider what matters to the customer at the point of making a demand.  If you speak with customers, ask them "what matters?"  In a future post I'll write more about studying demand.

4. Ask them again
This time, be clear that the purpose should be from the customer's point of view.  Reflect on what you've all learned about demand and what matters to the customer.  I've always found that by now the team come up with a definition of purpose that's at least very close to representing what the whole service exists to do for the customer.  It can be useful to have a discussion about how this differs from the first version of purpose, and why it's changed. 
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The definition of purpose is likely to keep evolving as you learn more about what matters to the customer.  That's good.  The important thing is to be crystal clear about purpose before starting to redesign the service – something to cover in a future post. 

What are your thoughts about these steps?  Would you use them?  How could you improve them?  Feel free to comment below, or share with someone who might be interested. 

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