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"Designing Change: A Decade-Long Journey in Service Design at Stanford with Morgan Miller"

John Carter
December 15, 2023
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"Designing Change: A Decade-Long Journey in Service Design at Stanford with Morgan Miller"

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The wonderful Morgan Miller shares his journey at Stanford, where he transitioned from an arts program coordinator to leading a service design team. Working in a complex higher ed environment, Morgan highlights the challenges and rewards of introducing service design to a technology-centric institution. Over the years, he navigated the intricacies of the organization, cultivated support for service design, and eventually formed an interdisciplinary consulting group. Morgan also discusses his initiative, Practical Service Design, aimed at demystifying service design and fostering a community interested in real-world applications of the discipline. The episode delves into the unique culture at Stanford, the role of brand identity, and the importance of leadership in advocating for service design in an institutional setting.

Episode Transcript

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[00:01:02] Brandon Gerena: Um, so Morgan, you are working at Stanford, which is probably one of the most celebrated institutions. For a designer, an innovator, a leader, probably in the world. And here you are leading a service design team.

[00:01:30] And if I'm reading it correctly, this is among a bunch of technologists. And I'm hoping you can maybe give a little more context as to exactly what that environment is like. 

[00:01:44] Morgan Miller: Absolutely. So you're right. Stanford is one of the most amazing institutions in the world. I've been so fortunate to work there my whole career.

[00:01:53] And, um, I've really evolved my career in the context of Stanford as an institution and the capabilities and the just amazing breadth. Of, um, services and, uh, people and all sorts of activities that happen on that campus. Uh, when I first started working at Stanford, I was, uh, an arts program coordinator and a communications manager.

[00:02:21] Um, and I did, it was everything. It was like being on the ground floor of a startup and we were starting a new institute for the arts. And I engaged with people all across campus. It was very much a hub type role where I got to know how everything worked in a higher ed institution, uh, and all the different players.

[00:02:40] And in the midst of all this, I was, um, developing my skills in communication, in design. I would, I designed an entire kind of grants management program, which of course required a web. You know, website and a whole user experience flow. Um, I was also at that time in my life getting my MFA in web design, uh, and actively trying to move into the space.

[00:03:03] Um, and so when Stanford central it organization opened up a new web services team, it was kind of like hand raising like pick me, pick me, please, uh, to be the lead designer for that team. And it was just a fantastic opportunity. Uh, to basically move into the central administration and enter a new hub role, which was around creating templates and, um, basically all of the, the toolkit, the design system that was propagated out through the whole university ecosystem, uh, to extents, you know, have extensible brand.

[00:03:40] What year is that happening, 

[00:03:41] Brandon Gerena: Morgan? This is, this is going back 

[00:03:43] Morgan Miller: a ways. This is back, this is back, um, 2012, 2012 through 2015. And so that was a new function in this idea of having a central kind of design system. And some sort of coordinated, uh, you know, propagation of that system to support all the unique decentralized units across the university.

[00:04:05] Um, you know, that was like a brand new thing. And, uh, it was such an amazing experience getting to be once again, in this kind of hub role, working with groups all across the campus on their websites. Um, and that was when I discovered service design. So I had. Of course, understood that what we provided was a service, um, providing websites as a service, we did custom websites and we had this whole platform, right?

[00:04:32] Uh, which was very much a self service platform. And then you could kind of add on layers of extra hands on support. And what I had realized from that position in the central it organization was that, um, You couldn't deliver a great user experience on your own because our service was so deeply integrated with and wedded to all the IT infrastructure and delivery teams that we were reliant on, like the servers and the domains and the aliases and I mean, all these pieces and components of the puzzle and the way people submitted help tickets and et cetera, et cetera.

[00:05:10] It's such an integrated ecosystem when you're talking about digital services. And so that was when I discovered service design and started basically telling everyone about it. Um, at that phase in my career, I I was doing a lot of public speaking, um, out of Stanford as well as within Stanford and talking about how we reframe everything we do as a service and looking at, you know, websites was just the place I was coming from, but there were so many I.

[00:05:41] T. Services. So at Stanford, we have a central I. T. Organization. That's About 600, 800 people. Um, we also have more than that in distributed it all across units and schools around the university. And so, um, thinking of all the services that we provide out from the central organization and then all the localized services that are being provided in a more decentralized fashion, it's this incredible landscape of.

[00:06:10] Service design opportunity. And so I basically started a road show for myself to send this message message out to leaders around the university and particularly in university I. T. Where I was working that we need to think about what we do as service experience delivery as service design and there was no central design in I.T. At that time. And so I basically kind of cultivated Okay, thanks. The appetite for this role and this function in it and got them to take a risk and hire me. And I wrote the job description. I was like, let's do this. That is fantastic. Um, at that point in time, you know, I was, uh, I was all by myself. I was sitting in the same hallway as business operations, service management, finance.

[00:06:59] Like I was, I was plucked out of this lovely, you know, user centered web team and put in the heart of the business. And I didn't speak. Any of their language and they did not understand what I was trying to do because we'd never had a central design function or team in it before in this way. And so I, I spent, um, the first six months on the job, actually, really just having to learn how to speak the language of the business and how to educate other people.

[00:07:28] And it was hard. It was really hard. And it took six months to line up my first project. Because I couldn't get, you know, I couldn't get people to play ball. Right. And I was still learning how to navigate that landscape and a building relationships, finding allies, um, learning how to talk about the value of the work.

[00:07:44] And when I lined up that first project, um, it was a user research project and. It was to inform some key decisions that were getting made around service strategy at the leadership level. And my, my boss at the time brought me in and I was like, does anyone know how we're using these services today? And it was like crickets.

[00:08:06] And so I was like, Oh, I'm just going to go, I'm going to go find out and I'll report back to you, to all of you leaders. And so I just went and did like a kind of contextual inquiry, like, um, user research project, finding out how people were using these services and brought it back. And it was one of these like light bulb moments for the organization where if we can just have that information, that user, you know, experience information, it can inform how we do service strategy.

[00:08:31] So that was really the kind of little, you know, foot in the door for me. Um, and then fast forward a year later, I got, um, three years of funding to hire people onto my team. Fast forward three years from that in 2018, we were moved out of it. So I don't sit in it anymore. Our group now sits in a new in house consulting group.

[00:08:53] We report directly into our CFO at the organization in, in our kind of business affairs organization. And it positions us, um, in a interdisciplinary consulting practice within the university to provide. Multidisciplinary services out to anyone across the whole university. Oh, and that positionality and the business model of being basically a consulting business, um, has enabled us to work with almost every business unit across Stanford.

[00:09:22] Uh, and so day to day, I may, um, you know, I, I might spend the morning working on parking and the afternoon working on package delivery and then working on identity access management and then shifting gears to kind of like student experience. So we, I think at any given time we have about 30. 30 active projects on my team alone that, um, my service design and facilitation team.

[00:09:45] And then we have sister teams, process improvement and business analytics, and we really integrate and merge those methodologies. So yeah, this has been a, I guess for me, I would say this has been a decade plus long journey to advocate for in my institution, advocate for this function and cultivate and create the role.

[00:10:04] And it's taken, um, Yeah, it takes, and we can talk all about that. I mean, this is a leadership journey more than it is a design journey. Right. Um, but you have to of course, prove the value of the work in amidst all of that, uh, cultivating of the space for the work to happen. There was so many 

[00:10:22] Brandon Gerena: moments of truth that you identified there.

[00:10:26] It was. Starting to really fall in love with the complexities of the organization. Can you talk also about what role does Stanford as a brand play? Do you think if you were at another institution with a different mindset, with a different mission, that you could have gone and pursued that with such passion?

[00:10:50] Velocity that you did. 

[00:10:52] Morgan Miller: That's a great question. So, you know different higher ed institutions all have their own character Stanford of course is is unique as is most, you know, every every higher ed institution But there are lots of similarities and I think I think in higher ed one thing that abounds is this culture of pursuing The possible pursuing what's possible and doing what's right, and especially at Stanford, we have that West Coast, uh, U.S. pioneering spirit of, you know, anything's possible. And, uh, I think that drives, of course, with an intellectual curiosity that really abounds, even in the staff community at Stanford, there are so many smart people, um, that are really drawn to the mission of Stanford and who come in with this, um, creativity and intelligence that I think, uh, really opens the institution up to innovation in a, in a way that maybe others, other higher ed institutions might not. I don't know. I haven't worked at many, but I am part of a higher ed, um, Ivy plus, uh, group for design leaders. And we, we synchronize quite a bit where we all deal with the same challenges.

[00:12:09] So I guess I would say there's, there's a lot of similarity across higher ed and some of the. Okay. bureaucracy, the decentralization, the politics, the, the challenges and the, and the, the, the structures. Um, but I think Stanford is unique in that it, it let me kind of create this path. And I, I have to attribute it to, um, just the incredible sponsorship that I've had, uh, from leaders across the institution who took a risk on me.

[00:12:39] Cause that, that's really what it came down to was I. You know, I, I raised my hand, I proposed all these ideas, but at the end of the day, it comes down to a open minded leader, willing to take a risk on someone bringing a creative idea to the table. And that I think is very Stanford. Yeah. 

[00:13:00] Brandon Gerena: Oh, absolutely. I think there's another aspect of this I want to explore because not every MFA grad, graphic designer, web designer, has the courage or point of view to take a main stage over and over and over as you have. And I've, I've watched and observed some of your presentations. I've looked through some The decks, I've really admired what you've done with practical by design, which is how you spend some of your extracurricular time.

[00:13:35] And that is a very different skill set to sort of outwardly project to have a greater cause to help others. Can you talk a little bit about it? Was there a calling? Was that also very matter of fact, accidental stumbled into, or was that more 

[00:13:54] Morgan Miller: deliberate? This is, I think this is, you're getting to my personality traits, right?

[00:14:00] And what motivates me and what inspires me. And I think I have always been energized by giving back and sharing back and teaching. I love to teach. Um, I love to mentor. I do a lot of mentorship, um, through Stanford, through the Stanford alumni mentoring program, and as well, just generally, uh, for folks in the design world.

[00:14:23] Um, there's something I think, you know, they say the best way to learn is to teach others. So this is my trick. I'm a lifelong learner. I love to learn new things. And my favorite way to learn is to assimilate information and then teach it to other people. And that process of taking the complexity, like you said, And distilling it down to the most clear, simple way to explain it, uh, is something I greatly enjoy.

[00:14:54] I mean, this is, this is just part of who I am. I love to do this. It's what makes me a good service designer and a good strategist also, because I bring. You know, I can come into a situation, uh, full of complexity and within a matter of hours, distill it down to the path forward. And that's, that is a skill that I think is really important in this work.

[00:15:16] Um, but I, for me personally, it manifests very much as a giving back. And I think too, it's, you know, we owe it to our growing and developing field in our industry to be cultivating the discourse around our work. And What I struggled with when I first got into service design, um, and what Erica and I both struggled with and why we connected and at the time founded practical service design was the disconnect from the more academic discourse that was happening in our field.

[00:15:50] Uh, and a lot of the, a lot of the frameworks resources and books, um. Really seemed disconnected from what it was like to try to do service design work in an organization. And we, um, we discovered that many other people felt the same way. So when we started practical service design and we launched our kind of blueprinting, our remix of the service blueprint and our, um, our guide, and we started a Slack community and I think overnight we had hundreds of people.

[00:16:24] In Slack, because people are craving the, the real gritty, like, how does this actually work in practice? And we don't have enough people in our field talking about that, even to this day, I would say, um, and part of it's because service design. Is not easy. Like this is probably the hardest design discipline you could pick to get into because it isn't actually a design discipline and we can talk a little bit about this, but service design is facilitative design leadership.

[00:16:59] It is not. You are not sitting there designing a user interface. You are not sitting there designing touch points. Um, I mean, if you do, that's like a bonus, that'd be like an extra cherry on the top on your day, but what you're doing is designing processes, you're designing collaborative structures, you're designing how your stakeholders engage and interact toward a common goal in leverages the core principles of co creation, co design, um, and, you know, human centered design.

[00:17:30] Oh, that's, that's 

[00:17:31] Brandon Gerena: an incredible unpacking and simplification of something that is, to your point, very, very complex. So, what you've done is you, you saw a need, just like any good designer would do. You see a need and you want to fill that need with some creative solution. What you have put together is something that I've seen you, you entitled experience delivery blueprint, which I think is a, a, There's a distinction I'd love you to unpack because you're looking at, you know, current state and separately from future state, which I think is Entirely makes sense, but there's a little bit something different because the challenge is if you know, hold me hold me to honesty here But it's hard to put together a service blueprint in real time It just doesn't happen today.

[00:18:24] Okay. You go back to the studio in some black box environment, come back to the client at some later date and it's 

[00:18:31] Morgan Miller: very much a client services model in service design. Yeah, exactly. You know, 

[00:18:37] Brandon Gerena: and there's, there's always. The, there's always complications, super complicated, unwieldy data that you have to have a very extensive Google drive to house all of that.

[00:18:49] So there's, you sort of said, yeah, 

[00:18:53] Morgan Miller: we got rid of all that. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We threw that all out the window. Um, so. You're right. I mean, the, the original driver was for me was a, how do I do this in real time in a workshop setting in a collaborative way? Again, I'm designing a collaborative process because the process is what gets us to the result, not the artifacts, not the map.

[00:19:16] It's not about creating a pretty map. It's about getting all your stakeholders on the same page so that they see the end to end and understand how all the disconnected and siloed parts fit together and contribute to an experience. So, okay, you kind of brought up a few things. Um, yes, the reformatting of the service blueprint.

[00:19:35] As a map, mapping technique and structure was an absolute necessity in order to make it work in real time with real stakeholders. And I have done this, you know, for the last eight years, we have been using this method and thousands of people around the world have been using our method because it works because you can get into a room and actually get through something and have everyone walk out the other side two hours later.

[00:20:00] Basically all on the same page. And I just, it's not that we're getting rid of any of the information that you would have gotten through another service blueprint format. In fact, I think we're getting more information, but what it is, is it's recognizing it as a set of data. It's metadata on all the kind of layers of your, of the steps of the experience that we have now broken down into.

[00:20:25] What's as easy as a checklist, anyone can run this type of session. You don't have to be a service designer to run the session. I've met, we heard from a lawyer who does this at his law firm, you know, for, for his lawyer services. I, I'm not a lawyer. Um, you know, P PMs, you know, running this it's, I think we want to democratize some of these tools because this is a technique to map how an experience is delivered by an organization is something it's a missing piece of the puzzle for a lot of teams.

[00:20:54] Okay, so, you, that was more about the reformatting of the method, and that was, it was a huge breakthrough and basically enabled me to be able to finally do service design, because I could connect those dots between the experience and the backstage of the business. Um, and so, yes, we renamed it because service blueprinting doesn't Help that as a term is confusing.

[00:21:17] Most for one, most teams don't think of what they do as a service. So the very first word throws people off and then you have to educate them. Yeah. Yeah. What do we mean by service? Okay. You know, people have weird associations with the word service. So it's, it's a very, like that term is not helpful. And then a blueprint is also not necessarily helpful because we're not.

[00:21:40] What are we blueprinting? You know, we're, when we look at a current state, we're more doing discovery work. We're evidencing, right? And then when we're designing something in the future, yeah, you could maybe call that a blue. But that word is like a little bit doesn't land either. So what we're trying to do is create this.

[00:22:00] Dataset that evidences how a service experience is delivered, which is why we renamed it to experience delivery, blueprinting, and it really could be any kind of experience to we, so we dropped the word service altogether. So experience delivery, blueprinting, um, it's how, what are all the components and pieces and parts that go into the delivery of that experience?

[00:22:23] Um, and it's the processes, it's the policies, it's the systems, it's the people, um, it's all of it. Uh, and I think so many of those facets get missed when we're looking at it through maybe a more traditional service blueprinting lens. Yeah, 

[00:22:38] Brandon Gerena: yeah. Oh, and I think that makes perfect sense. One area that I've personally gotten stuck on, first of all, you can call me out because you're not using any industry jargon, but as I've been in consulting over the years, I'm guilty.

[00:22:52] I'd be in the street. We 

[00:22:53] Morgan Miller: all are. We're all guilty of the jargon. Um, 

[00:22:57] Brandon Gerena: but I'm, I'm curious because when I've personally been in a service design exercise, we sometimes see the organizational vision very muddy, not very clearly defined. And while Do you believe that that is a precursor and what do you do in the absence of that sort of customer experience vision in a high enough fidelity, because I think that probably happens more often than 

[00:23:25] Morgan Miller: not, right?

[00:23:27] Yeah. So this explains. The more, um, the last like five years of my career with my team. So maybe we'll now connect some dots here. Uh, I mentioned my team's name, service design and facilitation. We just recently added the, the F word to the end of the team. And the reason why is because of exactly what you're talking about here.

[00:23:52] I came into this work wanting to design services, wanting to work with service delivery teams and. What I found coming in is what you just described, which is that. You can't have a great service experience without a clear service strategy and service strategy ladders directly up to business strategy, so For folks who've connected with my material on LinkedIn or our blog.

[00:24:21] I have this diagram That's you know some concentric circles and the way I like to think of it as levels of zoom In service design and, and Erica and I, we used to use the, the hot air balloon metaphor, right? It's how high are you going in your hot air balloon? Are you going all the way up to the business strategy level, or are you going to lower all the way back down to the ground and look at the blades of grass?

[00:24:45] And as a service designer, you have to be able to navigate all those levels of zoom. And so what this maps to is when you're landed on the ground, you are looking at the user interface level of a touch point, whatever that touch point is. Um, and you're looking at the buttons and you're looking at the wording and you're, you're looking at how that is designed so that someone can interface with it.

[00:25:07] As you go up, you pass through the, what we are calling the user experience. Layer, and this is just an unfortunate, I don't want to get into a debate about UX versus service design versus CX versus whatever the unfortunate state of our industry is that UX designer is at the like system or a system level designer.

[00:25:30] So you take a platform. If you're a UX designer, you are designing on a platform. It's that's just how our industry has evolved. It's unfortunate. So we, we ladder up, we go from user interface to user experience, to service experience, which now looks across touch points, across systems, to the whole customer journey and, and the delivery of that service, right?

[00:25:54] Multi channel delivery of service to service strategy. Which is for that particular service. What's our value proposition. How are we thinking about the market and meeting the needs of our customers? Um, and how does that benefit our business to business strategy, which is now the ecosystem of all the services and offerings that a business, um, that a business brings.

[00:26:15] And so as I started working with. Service delivery teams, it became so clear that we had to go up in, in our hot air balloon to those other levels. And so the work I ended up doing most of was strategic planning work. And so over the last three years, um, I would say the majority of projects that I work on, and I have a, I have a I have a six person team, so we all are working on lots of different types of projects all the time, but, um, but most of what I have focused on is those upper layers of strategy and strategic planning.

[00:26:49] And of course, as the word gets out, more and more people want help with that. And so most of my time is spent in facilitating. Facility doing facilitation work with leadership teams, um, or, or kind of business teams. Uh, and I think it's really essential for service designers to understand that you play in these levels of zoom and you have to be able to navigate it.

[00:27:09] And in some ways you have to almost be able to spot when something is off at an upper level and that you need to put a pause on what you're doing at a lower level. To go address that thing up higher in the atmosphere. So absolutely, I, I, it's very important to be able to navigate those levels of Zoom.

[00:27:26] And I think it's what makes service design so hard. In addition to the fact that it's not actually design work. Uh, it's all people work. It's all leadership work. And you are, um, having to be able to speak the language of the business at all those levels. Um, and I don't recommend a single service designer.

[00:27:46] Trying to develop their capabilities at every level, I think, find your sweet spot, right? And like, you know, kind of grow around that. Um, you know, I have people on my team that are much more comfortable at the UI, UX and service experience levels. And that's where they operate and that's where they're good at.

[00:28:01] And honestly, like, I'm not as good as them, right? You know, it's put them where they're good at and then have enough coverage on your team to be able to cover all the levels. Um, and so that, that works very well for us. Um, and so I'd encourage service design teams to think about rounding out. So you have, um, some service design folks that are more focused on design strategy or business strategy, and some that are more focused on UX or, or UI or touch point level design.

[00:28:30] Brandon Gerena: Morgan, some organizations don't have the investment. That you have at Stanford, right. And it's going to be a much smaller team. Is there a situation where you recommend phone a friend, meaning pull in a sub an expert on the industry. And the reason why I'll just finish that thought, the reason why I mentioned that there is a notion of wanting to do this with the organization instead of doing it to the organization or for, yeah, or for, yeah, and I think that.

[00:29:04] There's a different level of buy in and adoption that takes place based upon how you approach it. And I think that including, you know, the phone a friend scenarios to make them part of that process, even though they're not a service designer in their day job, that you can be incredibly Even more effective than if you had just all dedicated service designers.

[00:29:26] Can you just speak to that dynamic? 

[00:29:29] Morgan Miller: Oh, yeah. I, I'm a huge fan of having multiple disciplines, um, on a team and assembling. Yeah, it's, it's Avengers assemble, right? You, you need to assemble all the capabilities to support the work and it by nature has to be cross functional. Um, so I, I'm. I'm, I'm a huge fan of that.

[00:29:50] That's how I've structured my team. So my team, we have, uh, two, uh, two service designers, a UX designer, a design project manager, and a facilitator and myself. Wow. So it's a, it's diverse roles can, I think, provide better coverage, like I said, and collaboration. Um, and I do think bringing in expertise to fill those gaps is, is what you have to do as a service designer.

[00:30:19] Like I said. You're the facilitator and the designer of the process, you're going to need to plug and play different capabilities into that process where it, where it sees fit. And, you know, sometimes we'll start a project where we think it's more of a strategy project. And then all of a sudden, it's like, pause, we need to do a usability review, you know?

[00:30:37] So you have to be able to anticipate the diverse needs of that, all those levels of zoom in a particular project. If you're, if you're going to get into this work. That makes perfect sense. 

[00:30:49] Brandon Gerena: You know, there's, there's something really top of mind for lots of listeners to this. This is HCD podcasts and it's the toxicity that people are seeing are occurring within the organization and you can read it on glass door.

[00:31:07] You can read it on fishbowl to see how people don't feel seen. They don't feel rewarded for their efforts. And there's fear, and I think this is a separate question, I'm not going to dive into AI just yet, but there's a fear that their jobs may be going away. How do you see that playing in and how do you adjust?

[00:31:29] The approach given feeling that this is a trend now of, of this sort of feeling of fear 

[00:31:38] Morgan Miller: and uncertainty. Well, and it's, it's really unfortunate what's happening in our industry with just so many amazing designers and design teams being cut out of organizations. Um, it's a tragedy and, but I think it speaks to something a little bit bigger.

[00:31:55] That's a challenge in our industry, which is the integration of design into the business. And I think for a very long time, design it's felt like an us versus them, right? You know, we as designers are advocates for the user and it positions us in a way. Where we're in conflict sometimes with the business's goals.

[00:32:22] Yes. And it can feel so, um, just demoralizing when you do all this user research, you do all this work, and you want to design this amazing thing that's going to truly serve user needs. And then. It just gets shelved, the work gets put on a shelf. But here's the, this is the truth that our industry needs to grapple with, which is you are operating in a business.

[00:32:50] Right. And if you are not connecting those dots and working for the business, you're not necessarily, you're not doing the job that you need to do. And I think that's a, that's a tension that's inherent in design work and design research work. Um, that's hard to hold and hard to wrestle with. And I think the only path to me, the only way forward is for us to do our own Inner work and education on how can we be agents of the business as well as advocates of the for the user and recognize that positionality as almost a mediation role, um, that we're playing and that we're balancing a negotiation process at all times between.

[00:33:38] What's feasible and right for the business and benefits the business and what can ultimately benefit the user. So it's, it's a really tough situation to be in. And that's why I've been posting a lot lately around conflict, um, and conflict mediation. This has been my, my latest deep dive, like go learn new skills.

[00:33:55] Right. Um, but everything we do is a mediation between those two tensions and the more that we can get better at. Being mediators and navigators of that negotiation process, I think the more successful we can be and the more the business can start to value us because they're looking for interpreters.

[00:34:16] They're looking for someone who can speak to what the user experience is and what, what the users need, what they will actually value and find useful, but it has to be interpreted. Back to the business and the value back to the business. So if this is just tough and I, it's one of these skills and capabilities that as a designer, like if you go to get your MFA, like you are not going to learn this.

[00:34:40] You're not going to learn how to navigate this. And you only learn it on the job and you only learn it after years of being demoralized as a designer where you're like, I want to fight the good fight, but I keep losing. And, um, I think, I think one of these, you know, one of the ways that I've worked on this, um, is really.

[00:35:02] You have to recognize the power dynamics that are set up. You are being, let's say you're an in house group like my group. We're actually fee for service in house, but you know, even if you're not, you are being quote quote hired to do a project for a business stakeholder, for a sponsor. Who is quote quote paying you to do the work?

[00:35:23] It's not the end user. And you can bring your ethics and your morals to the work and your principles, um, and you can share those with your sponsor and you can talk openly about the process, how you design a process that is ethical and moral and just and all of these things that we want to create and design.

[00:35:45] But that's a comp, now, now we're in a whole other territory of things that service designers need to know how to do. Right. And that's, that's a challenge. And so I think, I guess I would challenge designers to look at your positionality and the power dynamics and your role. In the process and find ways to make it more than the sum of its parts.

[00:36:06] So how can we partner, be a good partner, both to our users and to the business and add value in both directions. So we have to think of ourselves as what's the service we're providing. Right. And the value that we can add. Um, I do want to mention one piece of this puzzle. That's incredibly important. It might maybe transitions to some other topic, but is.

[00:36:28] Implementation. And I know our industry loves to complain about the implementation phase. You know, you do, you do all this work and 90 percent of it gets put on the shelf and 10 percent gets implemented if at best. Right. And this is another one of those areas that is. It's not a service design skill set, but it's one that as a service designer, you have to learn.

[00:36:55] And that's how to navigate getting the business to have ownership and accountability and plan for the work. And this is about managing your stakeholders and it's about engaging the proper stakeholders at the right time and projects so that when you get to that phase of your beautiful, amazing vision for what this service could be, they can connect the dots between.

[00:37:18] What that vision is and what it would look like in practice. And now we're all back full circle to the experience delivery blueprint format. You know, we talked about this being for current state and future state, but when you apply this format at the future state phase. It is a huge dot connector between a vision for a high level experience and what it would take for the organization to deliver.

[00:37:41] And if you can't demonstrate to the business what it would take for them to deliver your great beautiful experience, of course they're not going to do it. So we have to be able to connect those dots and break it down into extremely tactical, practical, Uh, you know, processes and policy changes and, and staffing plans and all of these things that a service designer wouldn't necessarily, again, learn that in school of how to help a business design their operations and how to influence a stakeholder and a leadership team to invest resources in this, but that is actually like, that's the work.

[00:38:20] If we want service design work to actually come to fruition, we have to be really good at that step, at that implementation step. Oh my 

[00:38:28] Brandon Gerena: gosh. That's, that's spot on. And sometimes I'm at B phone a friend. You might have to work with the head of resourcing or HR. Absolutely. You might have to deal, this, this sits on something really fascinating you said, which is the CFO.

[00:38:41] You have to answer to somebody who looks at profits and losses. How do you. How do you do that in your day to day work? What are some of the metrics and KPIs because that's a very different language you have to speak to a CFO than someone who leads technology or marketing or experience? 

[00:39:01] Morgan Miller: That's a great question.

[00:39:02] So, um, because of our unique position for my team at Stanford, uh, we're an in house fee for service consultancy. So we, we really operate like a consulting business. And so our metrics to report up to CFO. Are more about what you would expect from like a revenue standpoint, right? So he's looking for us to be successful.

[00:39:23] Um, and be able to support ourselves basically. Uh, but in addition to that, we're looking at diversity of projects and portfolio. So he's interested in seeing us working with. Academics working with people in all sorts of different business units. And, um, that's because the heart of our team's mission at Stanford is really about instilling a business improvement discipline across the university.

[00:39:48] And it's both around process improvement as well as improving the experience. And trying to shift mindset and culture. So the more teams we work with, the more who are exposed to the methodology and the frameworks and the way that we approach these problems, um, the more we have that influence across Stanford.

[00:40:10] So there's a, I think in higher ed, you will not find a clear bottom line. I mean, it's not. It's not the same bottom line as out in corporate, you know, industry business. Um, but what we're looking for is, uh, is culture change. It's, um, embodying principles in our practice. And it's about promoting the type of work that we want to see happen around the university.

[00:40:34] Yeah, 

[00:40:35] Brandon Gerena: but that's, that's almost as hard as trying to. Pat your head and rub your belly at the same time, , because there's, there's a top down, there's a top down business and there's a bottom up where you're getting the day-to-day doers and makers to to work together. Do you sometimes see conflict there?

[00:40:53] And I would imagine as you speak to that there, there must be blockers because the example you raised earlier is you don't want this to be something that goes on a shelf. And say, Oh, that was great work. Thanks a lot. Morgan, you know, have a nice day. You want to be there with some accountability to see this successful.

[00:41:13] So then, you know, with that top down, bottom up, I would imagine that's where the rubber meets the road. That's where the, it does get messy. 

[00:41:21] Morgan Miller: Yeah. I think in our model, since we're, we're lining up projects, we charter projects individually. What we look for is commitment from leadership to sponsor the type of work that we want to see cultivating around the university and I mean, it can come from bottom up in that, like, let's say we work with an organization to train them all.

[00:41:47] We give, have their whole workforce go through service design training, which we do, and now they have the concepts and they know where to plug us in and they know how to do some basic, you know, user interviews and journey mapping. Um, Yeah, it's, it's very exciting. And so that can be bottom up in that it can build an awareness and an appetite for doing work this way, but ultimately it comes from a sponsor to invest the resources to make that happen.

[00:42:16] And so I think we're really looking for that investment and. As signals of the culture changing, um, across the institution, uh, and we're seeing it and it's, I mean, it's been over the 10 plus years I've been advocating for human centered design and there's a whole bunch of us at Stanford who are part of the design community who've, who've been, you know, 15 years ago, they were, we were all like lone wolf designers.

[00:42:42] Spread out, and now we see teams, whole teams. Um, some teams that are really big, too, design teams. And new teams, just, I just heard of a new team sprouting up the other day. So it's exciting to see the investment of resources. Uh, and it takes time and I think that's something that I have been really fortunate to have in my career because I've been in the same institution for so long.

[00:43:06] Um, I get to see the, the time scale that it takes for a big organization to change. I liken it to like. You're the tugboat trying to pull the cruise ship, you know, and it takes 10 years to see a shift in this and it takes perseverance and, um, continuous, um, in, you know, hitting the streets and, uh, talking to more people and demonstrating the work, demonstrating the value of the work.

[00:43:34] I do want to come back to what you brought up though, about KPIs and metrics and. You know, I mentioned for our organization, we're more of a consulting business. And so we have some, what you might expect as standard metrics around our business. But really, if we look at project by project, or if we think, take it back to a service design project example, this question about metrics comes up all the time in our community.

[00:43:59] How do you measure the impact of your work as a service designer? There is a simple, very, very simple answer to this. Please. And it is. It's whatever way that service or business team measures their success. That is how you measure your success as a service designer. So you come in, you're trying to help them improve their service that this business unit is offering.

[00:44:25] If that business unit doesn't have KPIs established for their business. And for that service, how will you measure the work? And so there is no way the answer is there's no way. So you need, if you come in and you kind of feel out this business team does not already have service experience metrics in place, that could be something that you establish at the get go to establish a baseline, because of what you need to do is have a baseline and a benchmark.

[00:44:53] To show improvement, but it's not going to be our team. It's not going to be service design team metrics. It's going to be the businesses metrics. Right. And so yet another thing that service designers need to be good at is designing KPIs for their businesses. Yes. Yes. And so we have whole, you know, workshops designed for this where.

[00:45:16] If a business team wants to develop what their metrics are, we can walk them through that process and we have lots of examples of service experience metrics that we bring in, and we have a kind of a whole tool toolkit and framework for that. But again, it's not, it's not like we can do that without them.

[00:45:32] They have to be the ones to collect the metric and commit to the resources to collect those metrics before and after your project and the work that they're going to implement from your project. Wow. So that's the like, the, nobody wants to talk about it, but that's the answer. Oh my 

[00:45:47] Brandon Gerena: gosh, that, well, I think it makes sense.

[00:45:49] I'm, I apologize. I didn't give you a drum roll to, to be, here's the big reveal, the business's metrics, which make perfect sense. But if you're not asking that question in the very early onset of your relationship, then you're probably in trouble anyway. So exactly, exactly. That's part of the checklist. Uh, we're coming up on time here.

[00:46:11] Morgan, um, the way we might be able to close this out, I talked a little bit about the listeners. Okay. Let's put ourselves back into a human centered mindset. The listeners to this podcast are probably sitting within a service design or user experience or technology or some sort of design department, either within a brand or within an agency.

[00:46:35] There's. The fear we talked about that they have, there's the unfairness that they're, they're seeing. Is there any advice that you'd want to share to help, help these listeners course correct, make amends to what their day to day is and find their purpose? Because your statement that you, you, I've quoted you on is to align your life.

[00:47:03] Yeah. If I could make that the ultimate close, boy, would I ever do that. But is there, is there anything else that you can give these 

[00:47:10] Morgan Miller: listeners? Yeah. I guess I, the first tip, practical tip I would share is throw the jargon out the window. We do not need our own jargon. And find ways to talk about what you do from the value, the vantage point of the business and the value it provides to the business and whatever stakeholder you're meeting with.

[00:47:28] So get to know them, be curious and learn their language and their terminology. If the word service blueprint doesn't resonate, like don't use it, call it a business map or something, you know, like make up some new terminology that works for whatever team you're working with and really focus on. Where are they coming from?

[00:47:47] What, what are they hope? What problem are they wanting to solve? And then really dig in, but bring your ethics and your morals and your principles to the table, because they will see that as valuable. And I think it, that's, that's the thing that we all have in common as designers, where we come in and we want to advocate for the right thing.

[00:48:07] We want to advocate for a good experience. We want to advocate for. Um, you know, for all, for equitable and just and right experiences and even for the environment and the way that we're planning for the planet as well, which is a stakeholder, you know, that we need to be considering, um, And we can bring that as a benefit to our business partners and say, here's what we bring to the table.

[00:48:32] We bring these viewpoints. We bring method met, tried and true methods that will ensure that you have the perspective to make informed decisions. And when we can articulate our value and then frame it in the language of the business, we become their best friends. And we become problem solving partners.

[00:48:51] So I guess I would just, I would just invite all of the designers out there in the world to dismantle the design jargon and the construct of being a designer, and instead being a problem solving partner that brings all these wonderful, wonderful attributes and methods and skill sets to the table to assist the business in reaching its goals.

[00:49:12] Brilliant. 

[00:49:14] Brandon Gerena: What practical advice to get in closing. Morgan, it has been a pleasure. Having the opportunity to speak with you today. It is really an honor to, to hear the stories and see the mission that you're on. And I want to thank you for your time, for 

[00:49:31] Morgan Miller: joining us here. Oh, thank you so much. It's been really great.

[00:49:34] Thanks. Have 

[00:49:35] Brandon Gerena: a great day. 

[00:49:37] Morgan Miller: Okay, thank you. 

[00:49:38] Brandon Gerena: Thank you. 

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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