Service Design for small teams

It's possible to do a lot of user focussed transformation on a small budget, and here's how we're doing it.

For the last 3 years our Digital and Service Design team has consisted of 3 (and 1 manager). We’ve been able to grow a little recently which is nice and helps with capacity, but here I describe how we made it work really well with the few people we have.

Team huddled round one laptop
Cumbria’s digital team

Doing it “wrongly”

I fully expect this won’t sit well with some folk and that’s ok. We wish things were different too, we admire the local authorities that provide top down support to enable change and empathize with the LAs in a similar position to us. We’ve been on the courses, read the books and aspire to one day influence Cumbria to adopt an organisation wide approach to building multidisciplinary service design teams. We have to start somewhere and day by day, service by service we are making an impact which delivers better services for our users and gradually instils an agile mindset in our workforce.

A small, skilled team with the right attitude

Looking back we have identified the following core skills shared amongst the 4 team members that we believe have enabled us to work successfully and effectively as a small service design team.

  • Agile (or more importantly the right attitude to adopt it)
  • Business analyst
  • Business emotional intelligence
  • Customer focused
  • Design
  • Delivery management
  • Technical / Developer
  • User experience / Content design
  • User research

Multidisciplinary roles

We all get involved in everything. Personally I love this, it nurtures a close team / start-up atmosphere which builds trusting and supportive relationships. Most importantly we are encouraged to maximise our strengths and develop other skills with support from each other.

What this looks like in practice is a natural Business Analyst may double as a project lead, delivery manager, user researcher and developer. Which sounds like a lot, and it is, but parts of those roles are getting picked up by others in the team too. Typically a new service (re)design includes at least 2 of us at any one time and involves the rest of the team through delivery.

Collaboration and culture change

Collaboration is a given for any service design team regardless of size. From day one when approaching a new piece of work we make clear to the service team/ department/ business function that they will be fully engaged in the service design process.

This is often a brand new concept for “the business”, they’re used to having change done to them rather being actively involved. Pretty quickly they adapt and feel empowered to provide valuable insight and contribute to the delivery of service improvements. Not everyone has this attitude, but those that do become essential members of the project team, contributing to User research, Design and Business analysis, then continue to become champions of the Digital Team’s approach.

The impact of utilising business staff as part of a service design project team is two-fold.

  1. The business team is bought in to the process. Which helps generate effective and efficient service design that has the impact of delivering meaningful, user-centred service improvements for our customers aligned to the business objects.
  2. By collaborating directly with the business in an Agile methodology we enable slightly greater capacity for our team.


Is this model of utilising multi-disciplinary roles within the team and collaborating directly with the business teams, sustainable long term? Time will tell, it certainly feels like capacity is stretched and since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic demand for our services has significantly increased.