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Tunnelling forward via DWP's Service Design Forum

 Nic Harrison Director of Enabling Digital Delivery
Nic Harrison
Director of Enabling Digital Delivery

My friend and colleague Andrew Besford and I have been talking about tunnelling forwards from today (me) and tunnelling backwards from our 2020 vision (Andrew). In his recent Sprint DWP presentations, Andrew even used a photo of the breakthrough moment of the Channel Tunnel, when British and French tunnellers met under the English Channel in 1990.

My Enable team exists in part to make sure all the digital services we are developing today are headed in the right direction to meet up with Andrew’s team's work in defining the way we arrange the business to deliver the services DWP needs in 2020.

Enable is focussed on ensuring that the services we deliver as a department are consistent with the strategic aims of DWP (and wider Government). This means making sure all in-flight or proposed changes are examined to make sure they are aligned with our longer term strategy. To do this we have service architects in all major change programmes and a team of business architects who review all changes as they move through existing departmental governance. I have created a new forum called the Service Design Forum (SDF) where all these people meet face-to-face as a community, to understand who is doing what and when. This promotes sharing and re-use whilst reducing duplication and avoiding programme conflicts, without the need for heavyweight documentation and governance; an example of our new nimble ways of working. The SDF is a community made up of service design professionals from all digital projects / programmes supported by subject matter experts from other areas of the business, including Business Transformation Group (BTG) Design and Deliver functions, Operations, Technology, Finance and Commercial.

The SDF acts as an expert support group to projects in the discovery and alpha phases of agile delivery. We advise on all aspects of service design including the make up of teams, security design, technology architecture (through our Technology members). We help projects to pool ideas, learn about good design standards (from our library of design and security patterns) and to understand what has already been built elsewhere so that can be re-used rather than built from scratch again and again. We ensure that projects using the agile delivery method are either fully aligned to our strategic vision or are “failed fast” to free up scarce resources and reduce waste. Those projects that move through alpha into beta to become full blown digital programmes are then subject to regular “strategic fit” reviews from the SDF as they pass through the formal PMU governance gates. The SDF also acts as the “knowledge share repository” where we publish all the lessons learned in the SDF, the various design patterns and act as a store of re-usable artefacts, available to all new and in flight work.

Business design tells us what DWP needs to look like in the future, and service design turns that vision into services that are actually delivered to users: citizens, other government departments and our colleagues. These designs have user needs at their heart, so one of the functions of the SDF is to ensure all our designs follow the GDS design standards. We are training in-house DWP people on the service design standards, so we can make sure all of our services meet this standard on an ongoing basis during development, and not just at the points when they are assessed externally by GDS.

The SDF is still new, we are learning by doing, we have already started to set up subject matter sub-groups to solve specific problems in parallel to the SDF meeting schedule. This is an exciting time to be involved with the transformation of DWP, and the SDF is the heartbeat of our interaction with programmes. I am excited to lead this function, where we will influence daily design decisions and help to shape the future of DWP.

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