Digital Transformation in Government
How to support colleagues and implement cultural change to enable digital delivery in Government organisations
Delivery teams across government are working hard on exciting new projects as well as supporting existing systems and applications. In many organisations, alongside this core delivery activity, they have also been exploring transformative work to:
- Introduce multi-disciplinary teams
- Adopt agile ways of working and deliver to the GDS Service Standard
- Establish a clear portfolio process to operate within sustainable WIP limits
- Introduce user-centred design professions and principles
- Support colleagues navigate change with clear guidance and training
- Improve communication and collaboration by working in the open
- Sign up to the digital and technology spend controls process
Delivering this will be a difficult endeavour given the significant cultural and technical change required, whilst maintaining capacity to deliver projects for your respective organisation.
To kick things off, it’s important to work as a community to understand what problems you are trying to solve. Some common examples:
- Communication and understanding of strategic priorities, leading to difficult portfolio planning and alignment of priorities.
- There is insufficient representation from all professions during the triage stage when new project requests are received.
- The perceived benefits of a project are not clearly surfaced at an early enough stage to support effective prioritisation.
- When projects are approved there is an indeterminate period of time before it is started (Further projects are also approved in that time).
- There is a lack of visibility of team capacity and availability to pick up new projects.
- Operational team limits aren’t factored in when projects are being defined
- Project (or phase) outcomes aren’t clearly defined and result in scope creep and delays.
- Support work is prioritised in isolation of other problems in each business area which may potentially be of higher priority or bring greater benefits.
Each problem statement represents a symptom of an organisation growing its capacity and capability to deliver digital services. To progress, we need some strategic initiatives around people, processes and culture to provide the structure and stability to be successful.
In many structures, you typically have project teams. These would generally be formed to solve a pre-determined output. You would identify people from a ‘pool’ to deliver a project, the team would deliver x over a limited period of time and then each person would move on to the next thing.
This isn’t a sustainable way of working for many reasons:
- It makes planning very difficult, as you scramble to find the right people to deliver a project
- You cannot build mature teams as people constantly switch context from one temporary team to another
- There is no ownership of output or long term support and development/tech debt
- Very difficult to build relationships with users and stakeholders.
Introducing service teams will promote local prioritisation and decision making; shifting the focus away from one-off projects and isolated bug fixes to a regular discussion between the team and stakeholders to define long-term goals that bring the most value to users. Funding teams not projects.
This would be a team of digital specialists empowered to build and support services quickly and iteratively. Keeping the team together retains knowledge, improves ways of working, collaboration and supports better planning and prioritisation.
To give these service teams the best chance of success, embed all the people they would need to identify, understand, validate and solve whole problems. These multi-disciplinary teams would include delivery, product, technical and UCD roles.
Teams will also work closely with an empowered Service Owner who is accountable for the quality of the service. They have overall responsibility for developing, operating and continually improving a service.
This joint relationship between stakeholders and the team can work together to design, build and iterate a service based on the user needs and business priorities.
Some organisations have also signed up for the Tech Talent Charter. An amazing initiative which aims to increase diversity across the tech and digital workforce.
Put a lot of thinking and energy behind how you will support colleagues navigate through this change with clear communication, coaching, training and collaborating with them to establish best practice.
Seek the help of experienced Agile Coaches, to help prioritise learning paths, identify the correct audiences and the most appropriate medium to share the information - as well as deliver aspects of the training.
Introduce a series of open lunch and learn type training sessions to deliver a targeted syllabus of topics which will cover Agile ways of working, UCD principles and the GDS Service Standard. These sessions should be recorded and made available to the whole team.
Scheduled short lean coffee style drop-in sessions to troubleshoot any specific issues teams are facing. Have 121 sessions with colleagues to coach and mentor them through change.
To supplement internal training, you can create curated online training via Pluralsight for each profession and also encourage people to attend formal training. For example, GDS, Agile Project and Delivery Management (ICP-APM; encourage people to become fully-fledged service assessors to take it a step further.
Throughout this process, create an open space where the community can document the new processes, policies and ways of working. Eventually, you will be able to turn this documented body of knowledge in to a Digital Playbook. It will be useful to use as a reference point for your team, suppliers and the wider organisation and you should continue to iterate on it over time 👍
Agile ways of working
Embedding the principles and patterns of Agile go beyond the delivery team, but that is still a great place to start reaping the benefits of Agile and to bring consistency across teams.
Multidisciplinary teams can utilise established Agile frameworks, including Scrum, Kanban and Lean. They work in sprints, using common Agile artefacts and patterns to create an environment of self-organisation and collaboration. This includes:
- Daily stand-ups
- Weekly backlog refinement
- Monthly Show & Tells
- Retrospectives and Team Health Checks
Alongside this, empower the delivery community to bring consistency and structure to planning tools:
- Open backlogs and sprint boards
- Use of wiki and shared documentation
- Establish access levels, security groups, board templates, requirements hierarchy structure
- Utilise delivery metrics to help teams become more efficient, identify issues and support planning (Burndown, Velocity, Cycle time, Dwell time, throughput)
Extend these practices to operational teams who can often be overlooked when new projects are being planned, but are essential to the delivery cycle.
The role of Digital in the organisation is to enable, empower and inspire people with great technology products and services.
In its most basic form, this translates to delivering products and services that solve the organisations most pressing problems. However, with a fixed headcount, the limited capacity will forces you to really think carefully about what problems projects are trying to solve and how it weighs up against other priorities.
Introduce a systemic, end to end view of projects with clearly defined routes to work (continuous improvement or project). To ensure a sustainable pace, implement appropriate WIP limits at the portfolio level so teams in digital have enough notice to support and deliver a piece of work.
The summary of this was a system with the right checks and balances:
- Established a Single front door where stakeholders will work with a Business Relationship Manager to discuss all new digital projects.
- Empower Product Managers to work collaboratively with stakeholders and service owners to understand user needs and define clear problem statements
- Introduce Heads of professions upstream, to support and advise stakeholders, suppliers and teams, establish best practice and surface team capacity and wellbeing.
- Use a Highly visual open, planning aid that helps everyone see the pipeline, progress of projects, blockers etc…
- Surface Portfolio Metrics to help make informed decisions
It’s important to get the balance right, too much governance and you can potentially become a blocker for the organisation, risking shadow IT spawning up. Not enough governance and you risk overwhelming teams.
This approach will help limit projects in progress, visualise the systemic workflow, improve collaboration between professions and help prioritise finishing over starting new where possible.
Surfacing key Portfolio Metrics help us make informed decisions:
- Lead time — Ave. time it takes for a new request from initial submission to being picked up by a team
- Cycle time — Ave. time it takes for a team to finish once started
- Aged WIP — How long a project has been in any particular stage of the process
Organisations are increasingly working to the GDS Service Standard and are complying with digital and technology spend controls, which means that we have to take a user-centred approach for projects and meet the Technology Code of Practice.
This way of working is a significant culture change and you have to collaborate with colleagues across the business to introduce user-centred design professions and principles and demonstrate why it’s important to understand a perceived business or user need before committing to significant projects.
- A clear understanding of user and task requirements.
- Incorporating user feedback to define requirements and design.
- Early and active involvement of the user to evaluate the design of the product.
- Integrating user-centred design with other development activities.
- Iterative design process
Recruit Product Management and UCD (User Research, Service Design, Interaction Design, Content Design) roles into the organisation. Encourage teams to work iteratively by starting with a Discovery to understand the problem that needed to be solved, followed by an Alpha to try experiments to solve the most important challenges before we commit and build the product or service in Beta and Live.
In an environment where there can be a perceived need to deliver at short notice, asking for early sight, the space to plan long term and the opportunity to work closely with users will be a challenging but important challenge.
Working in the open
Being more open and transparent is at the heart of transformative change. To deliver successful change, you have to bring people on a journey and this applied to every single item of change we are introducing. It’s also crucial that you continue to share and work in the open throughout any delivery activity.
Ask yourself, how can I get better at communicating what we are working on and share the progress teams are making to support and deliver services?
The first step for is to establish communities of practice (CoP) across professions. Multi-disciplinary teams by their nature include people from different professions so it’s important to give people an opportunity to grow with their peers. Communities are a great way to build a support network and share learning and expertise.
The second step is to run regular show & tells and extend the invite to everyone. This creates an environment for the cross-pollination of ideas and is a great way for teams to showcase what they’ve been working on in recent sprints. It’s important to make the content accessible to the whole audience, but this can be challenging when discussing very technical concepts.
Finally, introduce weeknotes and encourage people to start writing blogs. Weeknotes are a good way for the team to reflect in small updates. What’s going well, what challenges they’re facing, achievements and shout outs. This is also a good way of being open and transparent.
Gradually make these changes over a period of 12 to 18 months so as to not cause too much disruption. This will give you an opportunity to see how things go, get feedback from colleagues on what’s working well and what isn’t so much.
What does good look like? Well, if your purpose is to ‘enable, empower and inspire people with great technology products and services’. You should strive to create an environment where you can support the organisation solve important challenges with digital solutions that meet users needs; whilst maintaining the wellbeing of colleagues to deliver them.
I’m aware I didn’t go into too much detail about each topic so If you have any questions or are going through your own transformation and would like to share notes, please reach out 😄