Designing for delivery in public services

This post is not about making design fit an organisation.

The public sector often has little choice about what it must deliver – much of the “what” is enshrined in law. It has no choice.

This is a stark quality of building products to meet the needs of citizens. The need for parallel delivery is obvious where new services are being delivered simultaneously (think Welfare Reform Act), also where existing services are being improved.

We have spent time over the last year or so moving towards any one of our teams being able to work on “the next most important feature”. I call these “global priorities”.

However, this is not enough. We must carefully balance how products themselves are described and prioritised to allow some compromise to be made. Where teams are organised around “lines of business”, for example Working Age Benefits, Retirement and Health, this breakdown of products becomes a matter of duty above and beyond the tangible benefits to be had from building a strong affinity between teams and the products they build and run.

What began as a tightly-knit set of empowered people building a service to meet a specific set of needs has grown into the agent for the transformation of a whole government department.

In so doing, we are now finding ways to scale hard things like service design and prioritisation. Succeeding will help us realise the ability for more people to build and evolve brilliant services at an even greater pace. In so doing we really will improve the lives of our users.

They key to this is in understanding how to “scope” products that come together in a user’s journey through a service. Putting too much into this scope will create a bottleneck around those roles in the product team that aren’t easy to scale (product management and UX most notably). Too small and while the product might iterate liberally with all the gusto a small team can throw at it, the overall experience risks becoming disjointed.

If you’re interested in joining the team and putting this into practice – keep your eyes on https://careers.dwp.gov.uk

As we expand, we’re recruiting across most roles in Leeds, Manchester and London, including into the Burbank team in Leeds.

We could all be a bit more like Aethelflaed – come and celebrate Women in Digital this Wednesday

Last year's event

Two days to go until our Women in Digital event!

I’m very excited about Wednesday – we’re hosting another Women in Digital event in my home town of Leeds.

Last year’s event made a big splash. The women I work with every day came back energised, optimistic and boasting a new and strong professional network. The event itself became a bit of a springboard for leaders at DWP (and in digital in general) to channel the surging energy of the year’s historic events and movements such as #TimesUp,  #MeToo and the statutory requirement for large organisations to make public their gender pay gap.

I am so incredibly proud of how boldly, clearly and loudly the voices of some of those who attended last year have been heard. Many have become successful role models for women with a career in digital, helping in turn these women to be role models.

And since then, the equality narrative has evolved. What had been at its core a debate about equality between two genders (men and women) has now turned into something with even bigger consequences.

There is still so much to do

Women are still the largest single group on the wrong side of the pay gap. However, this is not true when it comes to things like ‘covering’ at work, where it is the group made up of LGBTQ people who are most affected. See this excellent report from Deloitte University in the USA from 2013 for more.

This year the event will expand its horizon towards tackling an (even) bigger challenge. Perhaps it can be summarised with the question “what if by working towards equality for all genders, we can also work to a more inclusive and effective workplace for everyone?”

The challenges ahead of us – successfully delivering Brexit, delivering critical government services that meet citizens’ heightened expectations, responding to an economy being reshaped by technological advances such as Artificial Intelligence (the “fourth industrial revolution”) – mean that we need to nurture leaders who can lead across boundaries more than ever, and find ways to build inclusive environments in which people can bring all of themselves to bear to the benefit of us all.

Leading across boundaries

This week I learned about the story of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians. 1,100 years ago she led across boundaries to great effect. It would be a crying shame, but not a surprise, if you too hadn’t come across her story – I’d encourage you to read some of it here.

In these times of great opportunity and challenge, in this month of Pride and with a spirit of excited optimism, I’ll be thinking this week of how we can all channel a bit of Aethelflaed. See you on Wednesday!