Operational Efficiencies Through Service Design

Reworking a process that’s been around for a while can feel like opening Pandora’s box. 

Especially at large organizations, the prospect of reworking something that involves so many people is intimidating. And it’s not just the price tag — the prospect of making a significant change at an established organization usually requires near-herculean efforts of diplomacy and buy-in. 

With all that stacked against leadership, it’s no wonder any process working at least well enough stays in place as long as it does.

You may wonder how you got by when you finally cross the bridge to the other side. If done right, a service redesign has the power to revolutionize your organization, allowing the breathing room that lets people work and imagine to the best of their capacity. Job satisfaction goes up, and the bottom line does, too. 

If the light convinces you at the end of the tunnel, but you need help figuring out where to start, read on for our take on three common barriers to starting. 

Barrier 1: Too many politics involved in implementing a change

With more prominent organizations especially, decision-making is often dispersed across a number of groups, only some of which may talk to one another. The urgent problems of one faction of the company may not even cross the radar of another. The prospect of making a change with all those moving cogs can feel daunting to the point of impossible. 

Our best tip here is to get “in the room” with folks (even if it’s a remote room). It isn’t about turning on the charm to win someone over. It’s about demonstrating a genuine commitment to understanding their work and what’s important to them and creating improvements in a way that respects their lives and expertise. The sheer fact of feeling seen can do wonders. What shows up as stubbornness often belies a strong emotional connection and care about their work, which is grounds to connect. Plus, you may learn something that helps inform your approach to the redesign.

Tip: While this will seem biased, hiring consultants for some of this early diplomacy can be a game-changer if you have the budget. In addition to approaching the problems with fresh eyes, outsiders can often leverage an apolitical status and sense of urgency (due to budgets and timelines) to cut through entrenched political issues that can be very difficult to resolve from the inside

Barrier 2: Something feels wrong, but you’re not sure what the problem is

This is another common problem — our clients may have a general sense that something is inefficient but not know how and why it originates. 

We also sometimes see the flip side of this — clients who can pinpoint the issue precisely, but once solved, they realize it’s a symptom of the problem and not the core cause. 

For this, the best first step is to simply get out into the field. Watch people work, ask them questions about why they do what they do, and understand what motivates the different actions you’re seeing. While it may sometimes be daunting getting the logistics and approvals to go on-site, there is usually no faster way to diagnose the “real” problem than by getting into the thick of it.

Case study: With a recent healthcare client, we went out into the field expecting to streamline a patient registration process through digital tools. But after being on-site, we realized that solving the registration problem would actually create a new problem: when patients got to interact with an employee, even in an inefficient way, it let them feel known, cared about, and human. The problem to solve wasn’t digitizing clunky in-person processes. It was about optimizing moments of human contact.

Bonus: Having tangible examples to share with other groups can help lead to better communication and common ground for moving forward.

Barrier 3: The problem feels so overwhelming, you don’t know where to start

Start paralysis is one of the biggest barriers we’ve seen clients run into. Particularly when you are embedded into the organization you’re trying to change, with an up-close view of all the interconnections, interdependencies, moving parts, and potential obstacles, the prospect of getting started can feel like setting off a domino chain of chaos. There’s fear that change may actually make things worse.

In a perfect world, maybe it’d be possible to step back and assess your organization thoroughly and objectively, making a perfect step-by-step map of the best order of operations in which to tackle the overhaul. But in reality, it simply doesn’t work that way. 

One of the most significant steps toward success is letting go of the idea of starting in the perfect place and simply starting somewhere. After all, there’s nothing like getting into it to help you refine your map for the next journey phase. Indeed, the time will come when you need to coordinate efforts across the board, but having everything mapped out before the first step begins is an impractical goal that can stop efforts in their tracks. 

Tip: Experience and intimate knowledge of an operation are invaluable, but when it comes to getting started, it can also be a burden. Often, our clients know too much about what’s going wrong and can get into paralysis in figuring out an excellent place to start. Here is where outside eyes can be beneficial in helping you find a suitable starting place.

In sum, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and we hope to see you there.

Got a service design project you’d like to work together on? We’d love to hear from you.

Overcoming Barriers to Digital Transformation

It’s 2023. Most of the low-hanging digital transformation fruit has been picked. We’ve got online shopping, digital media, and online scheduling systems…while we’d hesitate to call any digital transformation “easy,” the more straightforward projects have already been crossed off the list.

What we’re left with now are the harder-to-budge changes. We’ve got industries like finance, healthcare, and manufacturing that, in addition to being strapped by complex laws, are also highly human-dependent. Digital transformation isn’t a simple 1:1 switch, putting an e-widget where a physical one used to be. To pull off a genuine digital transformation in industries like these, you often need to change the whole system to some degree. And we don’t need to tell you that such a thing can be extremely challenging.

In our experience, coming up with the actual solutions our clients need is usually the relatively easy part. Very few needs are entirely unprecedented, and Grand Studio has been in the game long enough to spot patterns in what tends to work. But, as we know, simply dropping even the slickest of digital tools into an institution not yet ready to adopt it is an effort destined to fail. The hard part — what we spend a lot of time thinking about as a design consultancy — is how to get people to buy into digital transformation.

Here are a few buy-in barriers we’ve run into, and how to navigate (or, better yet, prevent) them.

Barrier 1: People feel a solution is being pushed onto them from above.

Any digital tool should always be framed as operating in service of people — not the other way around. Unfortunately, however, many people have been forced to work with tools that feel more like a chore than a service, and that suspicion can carry over to any new digital product. We like to address this explicitly when we do research, framing the job of the tool as directly supporting their work and existing routines. We ask lots of questions about their needs and habits and make sure that these are respected to the degree possible in the final design. If we’re working on revamping a system that is currently painful, it can also help to acknowledge the frustrations they’ve been dealing with. It builds faith you’re setting out to do it differently this time.

Barrier 2: People fear being replaced by digital tools. 

This fear has been around since the very first digital tools surfaced, and as technology advances, it’s not going away anytime soon. Workers who have specific technical skills, either resulting from formal education or on-the-job experience, will be justifiably proud of their abilities and defensive about new technologies that could displace them. However, we’ve hardly run into situations when a digital transformation is designed for, or results in massive layoffs. Usually, the organization’s goal is to optimize, get more results out of the resources and employees they have, and allow humans to work at the top of their skill level. If this reflects your organization’s strategy, it may be wise to address this concern head-on, mediating any fear about how roles may change once the new process/product is implemented. 

Situation 3: Highly technical audiences do not trust something digital to do parts of their job.

Related to the fear of being replaced is the suspicion that nothing digital will be a viable substitute for a person’s expertise. We see this in many types of industries, and it’s a difficult hurdle to overcome. We find that significantly involving these technical experts in the process is the most powerful way to confront this resistance. 

Initially, you’ll want to do extensive research with them, understanding the ins and outs of their jobs and expertise. Next, budget some time for these experts to test the tool out before widespread release. In addition to likely making your product better, this allows some time for folks to develop trust that the tool can be relied upon. We’ve even seen some stakeholders gain excitement at this phase, seeing how delegating some of the simpler parts of their job can enable them to work faster and better — it’s often the case that the bits best suited to new technology are the bits users currently hate to do, and that makes for a powerful case for change. Your pool of collaborator experts will do the job of spreading the word to other experts, and when they do, they’ll encounter much less suspicion than an outsider would.

Situation 4: The prospect of change in any form feels overwhelming.

No matter how well planned, change is often hard. One way we like to work with organizations overwhelmed by change is to start small. Even if your digital transformation goals are mighty, beginning with one bite-sized, concrete thing people can use immediately will do two critical things: first, build trust that you can deliver on your project goals, and second, demonstrate to others how change can happen. Quick wins build the faith you need to get those larger projects rolling.

We love working with clients on the precipice of a digital transformation. Have a project you’d like to work together on? We’d love to hear from you.