When DfT came to visit: "What we learned about agile from DfE"

This week we have a guest blog from our friends over at the Department for Transport (DfT). The Digital Service at DfT is relatively new so they came to see whether we had any tips to share as a young digital identity.

Over to Izzy and Keri at DfT...

Voyage of discovery

We’ve recently been working on a discovery about ‘agile’. What does agile mean in the Department for Transport (DfT)? How many of us are working in an agile way? And what impact has agile had on our work over the past year?

More than agile

The DfE team showed us how they communicated their vision and ways of working. We were struck that there was no mention of the word ‘agile’. We learned that sometimes it’s more helpful to talk about what that means in practice - designing for users, failing fast and iterating.

Using normal, not-digital language also helps when speaking to people in other areas of the department. We’ve found this at DfT where we have been working hard to champion agile as a way of working across the whole department. We’ve been talking to policy professionals about agile principles like understanding user needs, delivering iteratively and working in the open.

At DfE, service designers and user researchers are often embedded within policy teams at DfE, working side by side with policy professionals to apply user-centred design to policy making. This has worked well in other government departments too, like MoJ and DWP. Having senior advocates is also invaluable and colleagues at DfE are proud their Permanent Secretary is championing user-centred design from the top.

We learned a great deal from DfE about how agile principles could be adopted to encourage better communication, collaboration, open working and greater efficiency. Below are some of the things we spotted which we’d like to start doing at DfT.

1. A roadmap can be your team’s north star

There are many benefits to having things up on the wall. It makes work visible and visualises what the team have achieved and where it needs to get to. One wall in particular caught our attention at DfE, showing a 12 month roadmap that set out work in the pipeline. We know from DfT how much people like knowing what other teams are working on and what’s coming next. A roadmap is a great way of visualising the team’s workload and clearly setting out what the priorities are for the year ahead.

2. Tell a story with your wall space

Walking down into the home of DfE’s digital team, we couldn’t help but be drawn in by the many things on the walls. The walls told a story about how DfE’s services had been developed and where they were going next. We saw research walls for a number of services showing user research plans, service maps and user journeys. GDS encourages teams to make good use of wall space and create spaces to act like ‘vertical camp fires’ and DfE’s digital team have really taken that on board.

3. Use different mediums to communicate

For the DfE teams, good visual design was essential to communicating their message. Having professionally designed posters helps them build credibility, especially at the early stages where a new team may need to influence and inspire others to take on new practices. We saw examples of service lines, user journeys and posters to remind people of the digital delivery culture and the test of a good user need.

Their videos have also been a really powerful way to communicate with and influence other colleagues in DfE. Videos with subtitles are much more engaging than a slide deck or document. They have been much more effective for introducing agile concepts and user-centred design to policy professionals at DfE. We at DfT have started to create vlogs and make good use of live video feeds for show and tells, so we’d like to take this further by considering some educational videos too.

4. Cultivate communities

DfE Digital has built up communities of practice across the department encouraging policy makers and other professionals to get involved when they found themselves working in an area that required the delivery of a digital service. The team told us how useful they had found Slack to encourage communication right across the department, not only in the digital team, as well as meet ups and lunch and learn sessions.

It’s good to share

We’d like to thank the team at DfE for sharing their experiences with us and for letting us pinch some of their ideas. We post regularly on the DfT Digital blog if you’d like to hear more about how we’re building our agile culture and spreading user-centred design principles across the department:

Thanks for coming to see us Izzy and Keri – we’re glad to share!

Share this page

1 comment

  1. Comment by Jenny Mulholland posted on

    Thanks for sharing these great ideas with everyone else, too!