SERVICES not projects.

Some thoughts about how to frame transformation.

I’ve been thinking recently about why we need to frame the conversation of ‘digital transformation’ through the lens of services, not projects.

Services are about users

User needs first.. the mantra goes. This is all about thinking how things operate from the outside in. Understanding people who use the service, what they’re using it for and what their journey is through it (that includes your front line staff too..).

As organisations, we split our departments based on what seems like the most logical way to divide and manage the work. Does that logic hold up when you start walking through the service in the shoes of the people who interact with your organisation? How often is someone bounced between different departments to resolve an issue? How often are digital services poorly provided because internal silos prevent joining the data up?

Once you’ve spotted those gaps, it should be possible to work the problem backwards to ensure that ideal version of service delivery is reflected in how teams and systems are organised and not vice versa.

Services are agnostic of technology

When looking at improving the way things operate, it’s easy to get immediately bogged down in the technological aspect of why stuff does or doesn’t work.

“We can’t provide up to the minute rent account data because the system can only update on the weekly basis.”

Are you sure that’s the problem? If we take the statement at face value we may miss the opportunity to dig deeper and really question what’s stopping more frequent rent account updates. Is it the system? Or is it this forgotten about financial process that actually shaped that system in the first instance?

By abstracting the service from the specifics of technology we’re also getting a full picture of how things work end-to-end including all the non digital interactions. It might seem weird to say that from a digital transformation perspective, but increasingly I find that the work isn’t about the wholesale injection of digital, it’s understanding the purpose of the whole and implementing the digital bits where it delivers most value.

In a way, it also makes the discussion more inclusive and open if you remove the jargon and technobabble from the conversation.

Services can be continually improved

Improvements are often driven by specific teams or departments in the form of projects. Once a project has been delivered, people move on to the next project. And so the pattern goes, hopping around different bits of the organisation, stripping out the old (hopefully!) and replacing with new. This can lead to a scattershot approach to change that can sometimes result in a jumble of systems and processes that get heaped on teams if they want to work with other teams.

If we took a broad view at things as services, we could continually iterate in shorter hops to ensure we deliver what matters most.. what users need. A persistent focus on improvement with one eye on the future.

Because we’re approaching this from more of an end-to-end joined up perspective, we might also be able to avoid situations where we accidentally isolate different departments through clashing process & technology choices.

Services are conducive to teamwork

When things aren’t working as well as expected, internal teams can sometimes fall into the trap of pointing at one another to assign blame. I suspect this is a side-effect of silo working. A lack of understanding or empathy for what goes on outside your own immediate remit.

“All this would work brilliantly if only <insert name here> in <insert team here> would pull their finger out and do their job properly!!”

In reality, any service directly and indirectly relies upon the support of multiple teams. I’m sure this is doubly true for organisations with smaller headcounts.

If we focused more on the service than the team, perhaps we might promote more joined up thinking, empathy and trust between these different groups and recognise the collective effort it takes to deliver excellent services.


If you’ve got them. I want them! 🙂

In the next block of our digital transformation adventure we’re going to start talking to teams about this sort of service approach in an effort to foster some more joined up thinking (which is very harmonious with some of the GDPR work that’s already been done) so any pointers are helpful.

I’ve appended this post with some interesting Twitter responses..

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