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ITIL human centred service design – understanding customer needs

Graphic image of IT service managers examining data on a range of devices including screens, laptops abd tablets in futuristic office environment

What is human-centred service design (HCSD) and how does it add value to an organization?

It begins when you start to ask the right people the right questions about how IT is performing. The right people are those using the IT!

The principles of understanding customer needs, storytelling and creating value are key to human-centred service design. And the lightbulb moment is when you deploy these techniques in ITIL® service design.

However, if ITIL is more generally associated with processes, capacity and availability in IT service management, how does this fit with HCSD’s focus on creativity, interactivity and caring?

HCSD defined

HCSD is a creative approach to problem solving – a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor-made to suit their needs.

Asking customers and users what they need – and addressing their pain points – is where you begin. Language is critical here: you’re addressing human rather than business problems and identifying how to delight customers.

So, asking the question: ‘How can we lower the number of calls to tech support?’ is actually asking ‘How can we make our product simpler and more intuitive to use?’

Rethinking the approach

You need to think about the people you’re designing services for and defining people by their characteristics and needs. For example, how do people learn? In fact, about 80% of how people learn is visual.

One tool you can adopt is to create a persona that ensures what you’re designing responds to the characteristics of that persona.

Starting with the users means you also have to be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty as it’s not always clear at first what’s needed. HCSD puts people at its heart, forever listening and analyzing while using the community as a validation point for the design.

Successful organizations understand humans in order to create concepts and build systems instead of starting with a business goal and creating concepts to fit users.

For example, the international design and consulting firm, IDEO, was tasked with helping nurses dose patients in emergency situations. The firm observed how nurses held patients’ hands to reassure them during the process. This human touch was vital, so the company developed a one-handed device so the nurses could work while holding a patient’s hand. HCSD recognizes that customer experience matters, but also demonstrates another key principle: empathy.

In IT we tend to create processes for users to adopt without necessarily understanding properly how users actually use the service. So, a solution is to create ITIL processes using a ‘human lens’.

Deploying the approach

To deploy HCSD, you need to fall in love with the problem, not the solution. This way you avoid building on assumptions but examine what users really want.

HCSD uses a ‘Double Diamond’ approach, which comprises:

  • Discovering the problem
  • Defining areas to focus on
  • Developing potential solutions
  • Delivering solutions that work

Then how do you understand your customer? A typical IT lens would identify them as ‘simple, advanced and power’ users or try to create strategy based on a survey.

Instead, using contextual interviews in meetings and in the customer’s environment along with service safaris (shadowing people) and workshops gives you a very different view of the ecosystem.

And by using metaphor you can create personas and tell a story that can convey the complexity of the working environment so that everyone can understand the scope of what a user/customer does day to day.

Understanding the user means you can begin to develop solutions and deliver value without jumping to conclusions about which solutions you will deliver.


HCSD works very well at giving tech and business people an equal voice.

It’s also good when thinking about service metrics and service level agreements. It uses techniques to create metrics that are meaningful to users and the organization. And these metrics are not necessarily about availability, capacity and first fix.

IT organizations need to start using HCSD with ITIL underpinning it and, in turn, there is a lot of value using HCSD, ITIL and agile together: agile delivery can iterate quickly – knowing the general service but without the full detail at first – while, after launch, changing and improving a product at a speed not previously possible.

Is HCD cost-effective? Well, it’s about designing the right thing first so the product you deliver is the one the customer wants to use.

In mature companies HCSD becomes a capability across the entire organization, so that multiple designers are coming up with high quality solutions.

Current rating: 5 (2 ratings)


3 Jul 2019 Kevin Foulger
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Would AXELOS ask themselves their own question in regard to Human Centred Service Design?
How can we make our product simpler and more intuitive to use?

Over the last couple of days, I have been struggling to buy my first ever app – the ITIL 4 Foundation app. If successful, this will probably be the only ever app I buy. I hate using a mobile phone like it’s a PC. If there were alternatives to an app, it would really help users like me, who are not mobile app savvy, but who would more material to study for the exam. Many of the hard copy exam books on Amazon still refer to the old ITIL v 3.
It is also frustrating that there is only one single practice exam for the ITIL 4 Foundation on the AXELOS website, which contains many trick questions that appear at first glance, to contradict the book.
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