The 16x frame

The 16x frame is 4×4 matrix organizing into a design puzzle the 16 elements found in every service. Solving the puzzle results in the system-level design of a service, in the format of a strategic narrative – an executable script for orchestrating operations across the enterprise, to produce outcomes and experiences customers are most willing to pay for.

The designing of services is more important than ever. We depend more than ever on more services. Too small to notice or too big to fail, they have far reaching consequences. We have to be more prescient about the risks of systemic failures. And less innocent about why services fail despite the efforts that go into designing them.

Services fail because of gaps and conflicts in their designs.

Designs have gaps: missing elements of design that become visible only from the failures they cause. This has little to do with ‘lack of empathy’ for users, or not enough UX. It has a lot with the lack of fuller representations of services as dynamical systems. Unlike in manufacturing, the designs of services don’t have digital twins.

Designs have conflicts of interests: between customers and users, and providers and agents. What’s good for one group may not be good enough for another. Good designs produce higher values for both sides at the lowest possible cost. In essence, they are beautiful contracts that reduce conflict, reward cooperation, and reject compromise.

But even ‘good services’ aren’t good enough when customer needs change, competition becomes more compelling, or do-it-yourself more attractive. Designing services is hard enough. Making changes is harder. Changes can be disruptive because the designs are live, or in operation. Changes from one side require cooperation from the other. Changes may create new gaps and conflicts, and thus new kinds of failures, invisible on maps and blueprints, and waiting to happen.

Some failures are so far removed from the changes that ultimately cause them, the ‘undo button’ is out of clicks.

Thus the designing of services requires the collective intelligence of many disciplines, and a dialogic process that makes the designs free of gaps and conflicts. But that is difficult because every discipline has its own way of thinking, because as John Kay says, they prefer to understand and interpret things through their own ‘best and most helpful’ models – ones that make them smart and efficient.

Therefore, to make the design process more inclusive, we should store designs in an open format, so everyone can read or write, analyze or interpret, and criticize or correct a design. Regardless of their function or discipline, training or education, culture or background.

A story format.

It is through stories that we best absorb arguments and make sense of a complex world. We prefer to tell stories than to use analytic models, and the best and most helpful models are, at their root, narratives.

~ John Kay

Design is for implementation. Therefore, to be suitable for ‘storing designs’, our stories should be like ‘scripts’. Clear, concise, and complete. They should have multiple threads, to avoid gaps and conflicts, woven together into a single coherent narrative.

The 16x frame is a 4×4 matrix that organizes the 16 elements of design found in every service. It is a tool for developing strategic narratives. Each narrative has 16 sentences. Each sentence is a declarative statement, communicating strategy through that particular element of design. Teams implementing the strategy, interpret statements within the context of their own work.

Each narrative is woven from eight story threads: one each for the eight perspectives from which to design a service. Each thread has four sentences in a who-why-how-what sequence. The threads are interwoven in a pattern that ensures every sentence of the strategic narrative, appears in two different threads. This allows teams to work independently with autonomy and power, without the usual risks.