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U.S. Air Force

Building service design capacity


The U.S. Air Force (USAF) needed a way to deliver better user experience journeys across a complex ecosystem of operations, people, and technology. We were brought in to implement a solution for scaling the adoption of service design.

A few people working on a kanban board on the wall.

The challenge

The USAF is on a mission to become a digitally-powered organization. As part of its approach to large-scale digital transformation, the USAF has stood up several “software factories” such as Kessel Run, BESPIN (Business Enterprise Systems Product INnovation), and Space CAMP. These groups have successfully spread the adoption of modern approaches to technology delivery, including user experience (UX) design.

Within organizations as complex as the USAF, however, UX design falls short of delivering optimal user journeys. That’s because UX designers tend to focus on individual (mostly digital) touchpoints, rather than the full end-to-end user experience, which may include digital touchpoints but also organizational, operational, human, and physical touchpoints.

Ultimately, UX design at enterprise scale perpetuates a patchwork of partial, inefficient solutions. This shortcoming has driven design-minded organizations like Google and the UK Government Digital Service to embrace service design. Service design is an emerging, but proven discipline for designing, aligning, and optimizing an organization’s operation (people, processes, technology, etc.) to better support user journeys.

Recognizing the need for a more holistic approach to human-centered design, the USAF engaged us through the AFWERX program to help it rapidly scale the adoption of service design, starting with BESPIN and the Weather Systems Program Office (WxPO).

The solution

Based on our years of experience, we believe that internal capacity building is the key to any successful transformation. We also believe that the best way to build internal capacity is by:

  • Understanding the organization’s readiness for change before trying to introduce something new
  • Embedding experts within the organization to work hand-in-hand with existing staff to solve high-priority, real-world problems using alternative ways of working
  • Leveling up people’s know-how through a mix of (some) traditional classroom instruction and (a lot of) learning-by-doing
  • Gaining empirical insights into what it’s going to take to drive organization-wide change (for example, which capabilities to mature) through the act of doing (that is, using new approaches to solve actual problems)
  • Inspiring change by demonstrating the value of doing things differently
  • Creating reusable assets (for example, a methodology, documented lessons learned) as a byproduct of our work in order to accelerate adoption

Therefore, in order to provide the USAF with a viable way to scale the adoption of service design, we developed a solution called the Service Design Accelerator that features the following key components:

  • Readiness assessment
  • Capability development roadmap
  • Service design doing (that is, using service design to solve real-world problems)
  • Skills development (training and pairing)
  • Toolkit development (for example, practitioner guide)

We then collaborated with the USAF to implement and iterate on this solution. This effort involved the following activities:

  • Conducting a readiness assessment, which revealed WxPO and BESPIN as viable early adopters (for example, leadership support)
  • Engaging with WxPO to solve major customer experience issues that it was facing with its multi-year cloud migration effort
  • Pairing our experts with staff from WxPO and BESPIN throughout the engagement in order to develop their skills
  • Collaborating with the renowned UC San Diego Design Lab to develop a comprehensive framework for doing service design within government
  • Defining a training curriculum based on this framework and progressing several students through that training
  • Developing a roadmap for WxPO and BESPIN that identified where and how they need to improve their service design capabilities, based on our collective experience working together
  • Capturing and communicating the value of our work through case studies and stakeholder briefings

Through our support, we helped introduce a viable solution for scaling the adoption of service design across the USAF and beyond.

The results

  • Demonstrated the viability of our Service Design Accelerator solution
  • Created a 70+ page service design practitioner guide in collaboration with the UC San Diego Design Lab
  • Developed a comprehensive service design training curriculum
  • Inspired WxPO, BESPIN, and other organizations to expand the use of our Service Design Accelerator solution

Let’s deliver together.

However bold the idea or complex the problem, we work with you
to deliver results in weeks, not years.