Fostering customer-oriented design in the public sector

City of Helsinki

The social welfare and healthcare services provided by the City of Helsinki have been over-burdened for a number of years. Although the city has actively sought a solution to the situation, there has been no significant change in patient care or employee workloads. Reaktor’s management consultants applied agile development and human-centered design methods to the challenge, helping the City build a multi-professional team to meet client needs.

Unpredictable need for services in challenging environments

Social services everywhere have been struggling with rising costs and decreasing customer satisfaction. Budget cuts have forced public services to perform more efficiently and yet frustratingly, the cost-saving efforts often end up just costing more.

Cost-saving through optimization is difficult because of the way optimization is traditionally understood: divide the whole system into smaller parts, and then optimize those according to predefined service processes and detailed measuring. The assumption is that these locally optimized parts would also optimize the system as a whole.

Towards a more comprehensive service model

The starting point for improvement at the City of Helsinki was the hypothesis that working to improve a customer’s overall situation is more efficient than solving each individual challenge they face. This prevents problems from getting worse and ensures that different service providers don’t do overlapping work.

To test the hypothesis, The City of Helsinki set up a multi-professional team to develop a new service model for social services. The team comprised of employees from six different functions, supported by two Reaktor management consultants.

A central goal of this new model was to develop the service through working with real customers and answering to real needs. To ensure rapid progress, the team used agile development and self-organizing methods. They had a daily meeting and a Kanban board full of post-its, visualizing their work flow, customer feedback and progress of customer cases. The team also strived to work in the same space as much as possible.

Systematic experiments drove the process forward, revealing wrong assumptions and validating right ones. The team tested out a variety of new working methods, amongst them working in pairs, altering hours to meet customers when it best suits them as well as different ways of documenting tasks and operations.

“The new team was amazing, and everyone involved was really customer-oriented and empathetic. And they promised to see things through properly; continuity really made me feel more secure.”

Customer of the social services, 2016

Results: minimized bureaucracy and priority to customer needs

A few months into the project, the renewed service model had not only reached the objectives set for the trial, but also served dozens of real-life customer families.

The performance of the new service model was stunning: the time and amount of work required to undergo the customer process was reduced to a third of what it had typically taken. The customers loved the service, describing it as customer-oriented, comprehensive and flexible. The average customer rating was 5- out of 5.

Employees were happy with the new way of working as well: they found the development work meaningful, and being able to comprehensively help families while learning from colleagues gave a sense of professional satisfaction.

The trial was carried out with no change resistance or clashes of different organizational cultures. In addition to this, the City of Helsinki took a huge leap forward in finding ways to develop services, using the expertise their professionals already have.

The City of Helsinki will continue to develop the model further.

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