Don't underestimate being at the heart of things

A service I worked on from March is starting to roll out. When I landed in that team, needing some service design help and leadership, it felt they were the furthest away from making something real. And now it’s going to get very real.

Like all projects there’s lots to reflect on.

Things you learnt. Could do better next time. Friendships and challenges.

One of the things that went well was the speed of getting up to speed and making an impact.

I joined the team when they had gotten a massive scope shift. With the team reeling a little. But a week after I joined we had an end to end service design and broad hypothesis for what we wanted the service to look like.

There was lots more to do than that. But it felt great making an impact. And the feedback from the team and others was great too.

After a retro where some people were very nice about me and that impact it made me think about what helped me move things on. To make a useful impact.

Having quite a lot of experience in health and the health and care sector helped. As did working in places learning how to do user centred design.

And the same was also true to how data services work. Even if when I joined the project I wasn’t aware it was going to involve yet another data pipeline and dashboards project.

But even if those things weren’t true. And there have been plenty of projects were they haven’t. A thing that seems to work is being happy to, being active, in putting myself at the heart of facilitating and running meetings.

As a designer in a senior or leading role, your job is to help teams make better decisions. To design the right thing or the thing right. A way to help the team to achieve that is through your craft. But there’s another way. And one particularly important for a service designer. Which is to facilitate and help people run their processes in a user-centred way.

You can do that easier when you put yourself in the heart of the process. By offering to host, hold or run a meeting. From a retro to a planning session and everything in-between.

Roy Lichtenstein style panel woman bluring into newspaper, hearts with empty speech bubble

For the project going live, I found myself running meetings from assumption mapping sessions to story mapping and sprint planning sessions. It ensured I was where decisions were made. And that when a decision was made. There was someone reflecting what users’ needed. And that we balanced lots of different perspectives and layers from the service. From policy, tech, users and service teams.

So if you’re feeling a little lost or out of the loop. Or want to make a bigger impact. Make a point of facilitating a meeting. Even a regular one or where there exists a person who sit in that role. It’ll help you be at the heart of things and facilitate the discussions and decisions you’ll need to do service design.

Take your delivery, product or project manager aside and say you want to run something. Either as personal experience or to help mix something up. Whatever it takes. Put the effort in and design the meeting to make it a success.

Naturally there’s a limit to what’s your role and be careful you’re not taking on work that’s not yours. Be clear you’re being helpful. And that this isn’t about taking notes or making coffee. It’s about making sure you and the team actually designs the service. So if the additional role doesn’t get you there be watchful.

Some teams or projects you may also find that the team is reluctant. Maybe that’s because you’re still needing to buy the space to lead things. Sometimes that’s just because the team isn’t ready. Sometimes that means you need others to take that leading role.

But. Remember that most of service design is orchestration and facilitation of multiple viewpoints consciously designing and making the service. And that happens outside the craft of design.

In fact the majority of service design happens outside the traditional craft of design. So don’t underestimate being at the heart of things. It’ll get you and your team further faster. Whatever way you can do it.

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