Joining the dots from intent to outcome

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As a service designer, a large part of my job is making sure everyone on the project sees and understands the same picture.

We all need to have a shared understanding of:

  • why we’re here
  • what we’re trying to do
  • the outcomes (changes in the real world) we want to see

That sounds easy, but in reality it’s not. Everyone has their own perspective: designers, developers, content designers, architects, security people, product owners … everybody comes at the problem with their own priorities and experiences, their own preferences, language, biases and assumptions.

We can have hours of discussions and endless workshops to thrash these conflicting worldviews and languages out. Thousands of unmourned post-its may be lost in the process.

So one day, back in 2019, when I was working on the very early days of I decided we needed an authoritative way to describe and demonstrate our purpose.

In my experience at that time, it really helps to have a big reminder of “this is why you’re here” every time you enter the workplace. (It was ‘real’ then, it’s (mostly) virtual now.)

So I came up with this:

An intent to outcome diagram for the

At the time, we were still called the project “Single Entry Point” so I called it the solar system of SEP.

But, having had a few years to think about it, I think it’s better to call this an “intent to outcome” map. Because it traces the route from intent (in our case, the policy intent from a single paragraph of a government report) to the eventual outcome we wanted to achieve.

Starting from the vision/mission/purpose at the core of this diagram, moving outwards on concentric circles, we can trace:

  • The epics (significant chunks of work) that will be undertaken
  • The features that will be delivered under each epic
  • The benefits those features will provide for users
  • The outcome (change in the real world) those benefits will deliver

Back in the day, I had this printed out at very large scale (A0 paper, I recall) and pinned up on a wall where you entered our workspace to remind everyone turning up that day that:

  • This is why we’re all here
  • The work you do on this feature today connects back to this purpose and forward to that outcome
  • Those outcomes will realise positive change in the world, out there beyond these walls

I remember the morning after I had stuck this on the wall my boss’s boss’s boss walked into our space and said:

Oooh. I like that.

The late, lamented, Freya Perez

Which made me realise that this format resonates with senior managers at a strategic level too.

On a product management level, this diagram hands you your OKRs on a not-quite literal plate.

They can see the intent at the core and – literally – join the dots through the work we do to the outcomes we want to achieve. It’s basically a strategy in a circle.

What happened next

You may recall what happened in early 2020 … as Covid swept the world, SEP became and the default route for the Scottish government to deliver support to Scottish businesses.

We went from a couple of hundred page views a week to several hundred thousand. We recorded more users in 2020 than there are businesses registered in Scotland … quite an achievement for our wee service that was technically still in Beta.

And I like to think that this diagram helped us cohere as a team and get there.

Using this format

This diagram is available as a Miro template

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I'm a service designer in Scottish Enterprise's unsurprisingly-named service design team. I've been a content designer, editor, UX designer and giant haystacks developer on the web for (gulp) over 25 years.

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