Deciding where to focus your service improvement efforts

Three shapes from dxw brand balanced on each other

Organisations can get bogged down trying to create and agree on the perfect prioritisation, backed up by business cases, cost benefit analyses, and technical option evaluations

At dxw, as well as working on specific services, we work with public sector bodies to develop their organisation’s strategy and build their digital capability.

Like us, they want to improve the lives of the people who use and are affected by their services. And to make work better for their colleagues.

But there are always more products and services to improve, and more problems to solve, than these organisations can work on right now.

So one of our most important contributions can be in helping organisations decide where to focus their efforts.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough

Some government organisations have written about their approach to setting priorities.

While these frameworks are valuable, we find that limited evidence, consensus, and capability can make setting priorities especially difficult for organisations who are newer to more people-centred and service-oriented ways of working.

Organisations can get bogged down trying to create and agree on the perfect prioritisation, backed up by business cases, cost benefit analyses, and technical option evaluations.

In these situations we recommend starting with a few pilot or ‘exemplar’ initiatives, around known problems and opportunities, where teams have the best chance of a successful outcome.

“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”

Service improvement initiatives produce their best results when they focus on problems and opportunities that:

  1. Senior management are interested in
  2. Operational service teams are willing and have the capacity to work on
  3. The team and organisation have the capability to succeed and learn from

Starting with initiatives that meet these criteria will help an organisation to build their capability, create support for further work, and develop a better informed and more effective strategy. And most importantly, to improve services for communities, businesses and staff.

Preparing the ground

Where one or more of these success criteria is not present, then the initiative is unlikely to succeed. And work should focus on creating the necessary conditions to address the problem or opportunity in future.

If a problem or opportunity looks important, but is not well aligned with organisational priorities, then a service design or content team might:

If more support is needed from an operational area, then a digital team can:

If there is a lack of capability, then teams can:

Working on the ‘biggest’ problems and opportunities

I can’t write a post on prioritisation with a warning not to focus only on problems and opportunities that affect large numbers of people.

When organisations think about prioritisation they often ask ,“how many people are affected by the problem?” or, “how many people will benefit from this change?”

Giving too much weight to these questions can lead organisations to always focus on the largest groups of people with the most common circumstances, tasks, and needs. Even when the problems they’re experiencing are not significant and they’re already among the best served.

This can also lead organisations to rarely or never improve services for smaller groups of people with less common circumstances, tasks, and needs. Who are often among the worst served, most vulnerable, and most disadvantaged. And would benefit most from improvements to the services they depend on.