Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

In engagements with clients/customers, my work often includes system envisioning: facilitating the description of a collective desirable future (on a horizon of maybe 1 to 3 years out).  Once a group has converged on a future state or vision, moving forward is merely a matter of will.  Defining that future state, however, is more art than science.  In addition, with many more businesses operating as service systems, getting a handle on the invisible work that will be performed can be a challenge.  Work practices will coevolve with new technologies in ways unfamiliar to experiences to date.

In discussions with my colleagues, differences between their engagement approach and mine became clearer.  I understand and appreciate the process-based methods (e.g. process consultation by Ed Schein) used by large consulting teams, but my typical engagement is now timeboxed to a few weeks elapsed time, with just a few interviewers.  Some executive sponsors may ask for an interview guide in advance of coming onsite, but I don’t use a formally-structured guide.  The context for 60-to-90 minute interviews are light — we want people to talk about time-intensive activities and annoyances in their jobs — and generally find that interviewees would be happy if small adjustment could be made so that each would have to do less work.

Reflecting on these methods, I’ve seen a pattern of three stages in this approach:

  • (1) Induction: Rather than coming in with a preconceived model of how work gets done in a particular business, let those closest to the activities speak freely.  From the data collected, converge on common patterns in issues and/or problems that can be reviewed, validated and prioritized for resolution.

October 21st, 2009

Posted In: services, systems

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The science, management and engineering of service systems is associated with a call for T-shaped people. The most recent emphasis is on T-shaped professionals, which was preceded by T-shaped skills, with linkages back to a 1990 study on hybrid managers. Some insight can be gained by working backwards through the nuanced terms.

The 2008 Cambridge (IfM and IBM) report issues a challenge to universities for developing skills, and then seeks to enlist support from business and government.

Developing T-shaped professionals
Discipline-based education remains a vital role of modern universities. In order to close the skill gap, however, universities should also offer students the opportunity to gain qualifications in the interdisciplinary requirements of SSME. Such qualifications would equip graduates with the concepts and vocabulary to discuss the design and improvement of service systems with peers from other disciplines. Industry refers to these people as T-shaped professionals, who are deep problem solvers in their home discipline but also capable of interacting with and understanding specialists from a wide range of disciplines and functional areas.

Widely recognised SSME programmes would help ensure the availability of a large population of T-shaped professionals (from many home disciplines) with the ability to collaborate to create service innovations. SSME qualifications would indicate that these graduates could communicate with scientists, engineers, managers, designers, and many others involved in service systems. Graduates with SSME qualifications would be well prepared to ‘hit the ground running’, able to become immediately productive and make significant contributions when joining a service innovation project.

Support needed from business and government

Establishing SSME qualifications is a challenging task. Interdisciplinary course development requires significant effort to develop because different faculty members might find it hard to work together sustainably over time. Educational innovations are vulnerable because they are often reliant on the efforts of one or two people. Interdisciplinary programmes are even harder to organise, and more expensive to initiate and maintain, than conventional ones. Rapid progress in the design and delivery of these programmes would require support and resources from business and government. [p. 11]

This isn’t nearly the first mention of the idea of T-shaped. Leonard-Barton (1995) provides a drawing of T-shaped skills, while describing the resistance of businesses to develop them.

September 6th, 2008

Posted In: services

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In the pursuit of gaining a stronger understanding of a science of service systems through systems science, I’ve been working my way through the works of Richard Normann, Rafael Ramirez and Johan Wallin. There’s a long evolution of thought there, with a depth that may not be obvious to readers who aren’t systems scientists. Thus, phrases such as coproduction, interactive value, offering and value constellation have a specific meaning within the systems science community that the layman may not appreciate. Let me try to bring together some of the ideas, across the references.

  • 1. A service system includes a supplier with a customer (and possibly subcontractors) as coproducers of outcomes
  • 2. Interactive value is actualized not in coproduction of the supplier with customer, but in coproduction of the customer with his/her customer / counterparts
  • 3. Offerings are interactions that provide benefits in the form of (a) physical product, (b) service and infrastructure and (c) interpersonal relationship
  • 4. An offering can be either an output of coproduction, or input into coproduction
  • 5. A value constellation includes the supplier, customer and subcontractors as coproducers

The systems flavour comes out not only in recognizing parts within the service system, but in emphasizing the interactions between parts. It’s worth re-examining these writings in the context of a new science of service systems.

May 15th, 2008

Posted In: services

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As Service Science, Management and Engineering (SSME) has been developing, I’ve noticed a refinement of language. Rather than just abbreviating the long clause to service science, I’m now careful to use the phrase of a science of service systems, following Spohrer, Maglio et. al (2007). There’s a clear definition of service system in the final April 2008 revision of the report by the University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing.

What is a service system?
A service system can be defined as a dynamic configuration of resources (people, technology, organisations and shared information) that creates and delivers value between the provider and the customer through service. In many cases, a service system is a complex system in that configurations of resources interact in a non-linear way. Primary interactions take place at the interface between the provider and the customer. However, with the advent of ICT, customer-to-customer and supplier-to-supplier interactions have also become prevalent. These complex interactions create a system whose behaviour is difficult to explain and predict. [p. 6]

I’ve been sorting through the significance of this service system orientation, and have reached the following personal points-of-view.

  • 1. The definition of a service system as a system is earnest
  • 2. A service system creating and delivering value emphasizes a value constellation perspective over a value chain perspective
  • 3. Research into service systems is muddled in the ideas of coproduction and (value) cocreation
  • 4. A service system creates value with an offering as a platform for co-production
  • 5. The constraints on service systems are changed with advances in technology
  • 6. The (new) service economy is not the same as the service sector

Each of these points-of-view require some elaboration. (If the content that follow isn’t detailed enough, there are footnotes, too!)

May 6th, 2008

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