This is something I sometimes hear when working with clients.

Someone from a department that’s traditionally functioned behind the scenes — operations, finance, legal, HR — will step forward to claim jurisdiction over some matter that’s cropped up as a consequence of a consulting engagement.

Example: A company would only allow its customers to contact them by phone — no digital forms, no messaging, no email, no way to conduct transactions with them online.

They still believed they could control their customers’ behavior.

I asked: “What about people who can’t hear? Do they have to call, too? What about all the people who want to give you money while your customer service team is sleeping? You’ll only take their money during business hours?”

Meanwhile, more and more customers were refusing to play by their rules. Soon, customers were sending messages to the company’s Facebook page, through Yelp, and asking questions publicly on Google, which the company wouldn’t acknowledge, so strangers wound up answering with bad information.

If you have rain pouring through a gaping hole in your roof, you'd fix the roof. Why do so many organizations respond by creating a Department of Water Removal?

Anyway, the employees had good intentions. Their instinct was to solve the problem using the tools and methods they know best.

They just couldn’t imagine how the design and functionality of their website could be related to their customers' rebellion or that it could have a meaningful impact on their revenue. To them, their website was a brochure to be admired, not a digital product to be used. Making the connection simply wasn't in the company's DNA.


There was a time when a company’s operations could function out of the public eye, but those days are over. The web has wrested control from organizations — there’s no escaping its light.

And that’s only a bad thing if you fight it. Companies that embrace the web will thrive.

If you want to make something profitable, make something helpful — and then keep making it more helpful. Model it around the users' needs, not the needs of the people who are supposed to be serving the user.

One day we'll look back at our organization-first thinking the way we shrug at how we used to believe the sun rotated around the earth.

Operations is dead. Long live service design.

Have a great weekend,