Assessing and building skills in a service design team

Through 2018 we’ve developed Lloyds banking group service design capability to a team of 24. I’ve written before about the realities of service design within a large bank, and wanted to share something we’ve been using to assess skills within the team.

Why assess skills?

Initially team growth was brilliantly chaotic. We hired (mostly) design veterans from places like IDEO and Vodafone, confident they could mold their skills to fit the problems they were thrown into. This worked well for a time but some in the team felt we needed more structure and agreement about what it meant to be a service designer. People outside of the team also wanted more definition; if they engaged with us what would they be getting?

The biggest driving factor was a growing list of smart internal colleagues approaching me and others in the team to ask about joining. What did a service designer do and how could they become one? This interest grew in parallel with struggles we were having to find suitable candidates from the external market. I’ll write about it in more detail another time, but in short we made a decision to take in a small number of colleagues with non-design backgrounds and teach them on-the-job.

To do this we needed to write down what a service designer did and was from a Lloyds perspective, so Tim and I sat down and created our own list of eight core skills. We initially did some research into what GDS thought and recalled frameworks we’d used in previous roles, but we wanted something bespoke that made sense based on what we did day-to-day in the bank.

The eight skills of a Lloyds service designer

  1. Empathy /research. The ability to understand when research is required, what type is best to use and practical skills to actually carry it out.
  2. Collaborative /facilitation. The ability to design a workshop, run it and successfully work with small and large groups of people to achieve a goal.
  3. Service design theory. Knowledge of SD as a discipline and its tools, from service safari through service blueprinting to service prototyping.
  4. Visualisation. Being able to visualise complexity through a variety of means.
  5. Story-telling. Being able to extract narrative from complexity and take others on a journey.
  6. Coaching. Building capability in others, either in one-on-one mentor type relationships or as a catalyst in bigger teams.
  7. Systems thinking theory. Knowledge of ST as a discipline and ability to apply within a design context.
  8. Strategy. The ability to tie any of the above back to a bigger business context/goals and speak the language of non-designers.
The aggregate view — not entirely happy with how effective this visual is, but it works for now

How it’s working in practice

To avoid this being a scoring exercise we asked the existing to team to assess themselves on a scale of awareness through to expertise. I was keen it wasn’t scientific and was open to interpretation, as I wanted it to be more about self-reflection and discussion than about numbers and scoring. More experienced members of the team were happy to do this on their own, while others wanted it to be a conversation.

Introducing the skills assessment has had the following benefits:

  • Identify training requirements for individuals and the whole team. For example the assessment resulted in some visual thinking training which has accelerated visualisation in those that attended.
  • Identify buddy-opportunities across the team. For those that felt they were lacking in a particular area, it was clearer than ever who they could go to for advice, examples and coaching.
  • Structure development conversations with those we had brought into the team from non-design backgrounds. As mentioned above we wanted to create-careers paths for the growing number of smart people who were approaching the team. This skills assessment has been a really useful for me and them to identify where they need most support, and also to get them thinking laterally about how previous experiences are relevant to service design.
  • Interview more effectively; once we had the list of eight things, I had a really structured set of questions to ask when interviewing internal and external candidates.
  • Onboard more effectively; for all of the above reasons, it’s proved a really useful way-marking tools for new-joiners into our team.

As always, would love to hear questions and feedback from others. It’ll be interesting in 2019 as we further scale the team and become more of a guild within the business alongside the other design disciplines.



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Ross Breadmore

Mum asked for a baby, dad asked for a transformer - I was the compromise. Chief product officer at 4G Capital.