Five Service Design principles to solve GROWx’ challenge
Read more by Laura Martín
GROWx’ mission is to supply fresh produce to the heart of cities through a new Farming as a Service (FaaS) concept that combines their extensive farming experience with the latest technological developments.
When we first met with GROWx last year, most of the processes needed to run their vertical farm in Amsterdam were still done manually by growers, harvesters and other key users. They had the first prototype of a robot in place, together with an initial idea of where they wanted to go. We stepped in to help them scope their vision and to create a framework within which we could realize a first MVP for their FaaS proposition.
To tackle such a comprehensive challenge, we applied Service Design principles. These principles help to understand the various layers this challenge comprises and provides data that GROWx can use for future decisions.
GROWx’ Vertical Farm
Service Design as a holistic approach to problem solving
At INFO, we address strategic projects through Service Design. Service Design is often presented as a mindset, a process or even as a set of tools. For INFO, it means having a people-centered approach to problem solving. This approach balances the needs of the users and the organizations with what is technically feasible, so we can define strategies, products and experiences that all work towards sustainable business growth.
Whether it’s a toolset or a people-centered approach, Service Design is nothing if not holistic. It considers every touchpoint between a company and its users, whether analog or digital, and so defines the service strategy as a whole.
We treat Service Design as a living canvas, something organic. Because our approaches and methods are not set in stone, they enable innovation. This means that we are continuously learning from new methods and improving our skill sets.
One of the most important things about any problem-solving tactic is your mindset. At INFO we have five Service Design principles that form the foundation for our mindset towards strategy and business innovation.
The five Service Design principles
How we applied our five Service Design principles to GROWx
The nature and scope of GROWx’ challenge required flexibility and a good balance between short and long-term visions. To provide certainty as well, we considered Stickdorn and Schneider’s five Service Design principles, but we tweaked them a bit. We included them from the very start during our initial exploration phase right up until defining the roadmap towards the MVP.
What those five principles are and how did we apply them to the GROWx challenge? Let’s take a look at it together:
The challenge of this project lies in the intersection of plants, robots and users, in this case, the growers. Although the people-centered principle stands for looking at users’ needs first, Service Design doesn’t only create value for the end user, but it also considers the entire value chain. For GROWx, our focus moved from the users to understanding the lifecycle of the plants and looking at things from their perspective first.
During our initial exploration phase, we normally start by understanding our client’s business and organization first. or GROWx, this meant that we had to take a closer look at the plants, as they were key stakeholders and factors in the ecosystem. We took a closer look at the plants’ life cycle, including the distinct phases from seeding and germination to growth and harvesting, and determined all the touchpoints between the growers and the robots. Some of the key questions that we addressed were:
- Which factors positively influence a plant’s growth?
- How can we measure optimal growth?
- What patterns will determine the next steps in the production?
The second principle centers around collaboration. With GROWx, we’ve engaged with stakeholders from the very beginning. After starting out by talking to the CEO, we later started including (some of) the growers and the marketing teams. We quickly learned that everyone’s expertise was useful in a different phase of the project. It’s paramount to choose wisely when deciding who to include during which stage.
One the most challenging sessions during those first few weeks was when we needed to map out the future state of the complete lifecycle. For that session, we invited GROWx’ key stakeholders, including one of the growers, their CEO, the people in MKT and the Technical Lead. Incorporating their perspective helped us to co-create a future state in which all the questions and needs were accounted for. Although it was very challenging to connect the growers’ hands-on experience with the technical mindset of our engineers and the business-oriented vision of the CEO, we came up with a solution that worked for everybody.
Co-creation is a great facilitator when it comes to stakeholder engagement, especially in the preliminary stages of a project. If it’s managed correctly, it can even enable adoption in the later stages, for example when defining a pilot or building an MVP.
In the traditional Service Design principles, this principle is called Sequencing, which refers to an approach being sequential and so creating an overview of interactions and connections. However, it also means that whatever you make needs to be holistic in the sense that it addresses needs that extend across the entire value chain.
In order to unravel the interconnectedness of the different elements of GROWx’ ecosystem, we needed a systemic overview. One of the methods used to understand that systemic perspective was a service blueprint.
Blueprints help you map out the front and back lines of an experience, process or service. It’s not only about what a customer sees and interacts with, but also about what’s behind the scenes: processes, systems and other internal actors. As mentioned in the co-creative principle above, we started mapping out the as-is blueprint, to understand the initial situation. Then, we continued with the to-be blueprint that helped us understand the business’ ambitions, but also showcased its biggest challenges. Some of the questions unveiled were transformed into design scenarios in a later stage.
Evidencing ensures that the decision-making process is based on facts and originally stands for the need to quantify intangible values. We tried to provide as much evidence as possible that guarantees feasibility and viability in the decisions that we framed.
Observation sessions with growers
A good example of how this principle brought value to GROWx was through the initial concepts that we created. These concepts revolved around the idea of how growers, robots and plants would interact in the future. They were not final designs, of course, but they were very useful during our early conversations with the growers. We discussed the grower’s future role and the scenarios that we came up with uncovered the most important needs for the automated system. Some of the future scenarios included questions like ‘How can we visualize the plant’s health?’ and ‘How can we ensure process quality without physically being in the cells?’
We need to consider the explorative, adaptative, and experimental aspects of Service Design. That is why the last principle stands for integrating feedback loops into your process. In agile development, this is part of the Scrum team’s daily activities. Additionally, during the discovery phase, you also need to strive for including constant feedback from an early stage. That’s why, during the first six weeks of the discovery phase, we took three moments to iterate our thoughts:
- The early blueprints. We took a break in between two of the sessions to reflect upon some of the future-state elements we described.
- Defining challenges and prioritizing. After mapping out the future state of GROWx’ processes, we presented a first prioritization, based on our early findings. Then, we iterated it with the main stakeholders, which helped us align everyone’s expectations.
- The first wireframes for the Plant Manager System were far from optimal in terms of product design. However, having something tangible helped us test the value and the importance of some elements versus others. This was crucial in the definition of a first MVP.
In conclusion, when framing a Service Design approach, it doesn’t really matter whether you choose a specific method or toolkit over others. What really matters is the mindset behind it and how it can help you solve complex innovation challenges. The key ingredients of FaaS are having the adaptability and nutritional precision to, for example, meet the needs of large supermarkets with fluctuating demands. By designing the system around the plant and its needs, we enabled a scope that allowed data and operations to be centered around the conditions for a successful plant journey that was as adaptable and healthy as possible.
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