How does service design play a role in delivering business impact?

Do you know how to get stakeholders to genuinely believe in service design?

You might be sitting in your organisation frustrated that you are not getting anywhere. As people around your department and senior positions just do not believe that service design can support the transformation process. Co-workers familiar with design, UX, and product development are easy to convince when it comes to applying service design. Getting people that fall into more traditional functions or believe in quantitative data alone can be more challenging.

Organisations that can innovate and create seamless services know that they need to consider a holistic process; while understanding how every element can impact the business and customers. Organisations that struggle to innovate and have services that break their promise need service designers more. Often, design does not get the chance to sit at the strategic level in the same way as finance, technology, operations, and many more.

This article could be good for you if:

  • You want to get buy-in when starting with a new role that traditionally does not use service design methods.

Still interested in learning more? Keep on reading…

Why is it so hard for service designers to enable people to embrace a more holistic way of designing existing and new services?

Service design can bring up emotions of joy or disgust depending on who you speak to in the organisation (and I have been in a few). Getting stakeholders within the organisation to believe in design as a method to create business value is easier said than done. The result of a service design project would often be a vision of a better, yet achievable future, delivered with good storytelling. Thus de-risking the product and facilitating the successful delivery of the solution.

How many non-designers really care what service design does?

The further you get in leadership as a service designer, the less technique work you are involved in and the more you have to convince and discover what is blocking any good design with stakeholders. The ability to understand challenges different teams, departments, and communities face when creating long-term change is critical.

Presenting Design Work for Stakeholder Buy-In

A significant part of service design is sharing our vision to convince different stakeholders to buy into our design. That often takes a bit of skill and experience. Getting stakeholder buy-in is about reaching a consensus regarding a design or making a compromise. And so, you need great presentation skills to succeed.

The Oxford dictionary describes a stakeholder as a “person or company that is involved in a particular organisation, project, or system, especially because they have invested money in it.”

Naturally, each stakeholder’s contributions and influence will impact how you present your design ideas to them. Understanding the expectations of your stakeholders will help you cater your presentation to their needs. So, you need stakeholder mapping to categorise your stakeholders to know how to interact with them effectively.

You can use a RACI chart to map the responsibility of each stakeholder so you can effectively engage with them. If you don’t engage with your stakeholders as their respective positions demand, you could lose their interest in your design ideas. With a full understanding of your stakeholders’ responsibilities and goals, you’ll be better equipped to align your work with their expectations.

What are you doing to understand and better connect with your stakeholders?

Finding allies as you prepare to present your design

Another benefit of stakeholder mapping is understanding which stakeholders could be your allies. Start by regularly communicating with close colleagues. Discuss your ideas with these colleagues to give them a concrete understanding of your vision to advocate for you should the need arise during your design presentation. You could even ask for their input on your project.

These kinds of professional relationships take time to build and nurture, but they’re worth it. Regular, meaningful interactions help establish trust, thereby leading to a stronger relationship.

If you’re going into a stakeholder review, it’s vital to know who needs to approve your design. Have a conversation with that person, understand their viewpoints, and learn how to convince them of your design’s value. Find that person’s preferred presentation style and cater most of your presentation to their preference. These are great steps to follow if you hope to have them as an ally.

It’s also crucial to recognise the person with influence in the room; that person may not necessarily have the final say in the approval of your design, but their feedback could be considered more impactful. You must learn how to navigate that person’s presence and gain their allyship.

How to present your design concepts

How you present your designs will depend entirely on your audience, but you need to provide context for your presentation. Start the conversation by describing the thought process behind your design. This allows your audience to see the science and effort behind it. From there, you can discuss the initial problem that led to your idea to improve the service, product or platform.

Presenting doesn’t differ much from storytelling, so it needs to be just as captivating. When presenting your design concept, highlight the main points of your project, including the research you conducted. Always use visual aids like figures, images, and prototypes; these will provide proof of concept to keep your audience engaged. Prototypes can also serve as visual storytelling tools to help you sell the overall design experience.

Allow your audience to ask questions during your presentation. They’ll feel more involved in the design process, which might encourage them to support your ideas. Some of this feedback could even add value to your presentation and allow you to elaborate more on a point that could sell your design to other stakeholders. This could even be a collaborative opportunity for you.

If you don’t allow your stakeholders to ask probing questions, you might lose them. They’ll be more difficult to convince if they’re silenced.

There have been many occasions where I would open up sessions and workshops to review any blueprints or service maps I have created to get people to comment and create a narrative around a problem space the organisation has been struggling with. This has created opportunities to discuss issues or blockers across the design process as well as ensure that everyone has a common language when designing a solution.

Speak the language of your stakeholders. Senior stakeholders are often less interested in the design principles, so you need to speak about your project in their value terms. Use words that will make them realise that your design will benefit their business. If you use technical jargon, you might lose their attention. So, use simple terms and scenarios to explain complicated design concepts. Your audience will relate more to the content, which will help you connect with them.

Three questions to ask yourself before your presentation:

1. Why is this design important?

2. What is the impact of this design?

3. And how can I de-risk the design investment for the company?

If you can answer these questions and frame them relevantly to your stakeholders, you’ll have a winning presentation.

How to connect to your stakeholders better

With a lack of urgency, designing better services and experiences can be seen as nice rather than an expectation, being put on the back burner. It becomes that thing we will get to “once we have some clear air,” or “once we have got this new client project out of the way,” or “we’ll start next quarter once we have closed that big order.” The thing about business, and life in general, is there is always something just around the corner to distract us and swallow our time.

What if you present all the facts, but the stakeholders still don’t want to go with your ideas? Try a more human approach to your presentation. A human connection with your stakeholders is as important as presenting the facts. Trying to understand their viewpoints, even if they oppose yours, will help you connect with your stakeholders better because you’ll approach them from a place of empathy. This goes back to making your presentation relatable for your audience.

Quantifying the success of your presentation

There’s no direct method to tell if you’re getting a good reception during your presentation. The only way to know if your presentation was a success is when your stakeholders approve your designs.

Getting stakeholders’ approval means you’ve helped them understand the context and the reasoning behind your design; it means they see the value in your design. This level of understanding means they could also speak about your designs to other stakeholders in your absence.

We often feel like we’re against the team during design presentations, but that’s not the case; you’re up against the risk aversion of the person who feels the most ownership over the final decision. There may be some value that they don’t feel like they’re getting from what you’re presenting, so it’s essential to find out what that is and add it to your presentation. A presentation that shows the value of your design will always get stakeholder buy-in.

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Innovation | Strategy | Making a difference through writing, listening, talking and doing

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Daniel Tuitt

Innovation | Strategy | Making a difference through writing, listening, talking and doing