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Our successful GDS Alpha Review - what I learned

The Secure Communications team recently passed their GDS Alpha review to move into Beta. Product Owner Rachel Woods reflects on the review and offers some insider knowledge on the experience.

Rachel Woods - Product Owner
Rachel Woods - Product Owner

There's a phrase often used in the legal world: "if you come to equity, come with clean hands". As a law student I used to imagine standing in court, the high Victorian dark wood judicial bench afore me with a stony-faced judge peering over his half-moon glasses and me all squeaky-voiced and squirming with red-raw, much washed hands, explaining, “They're sparkling, m'lud."

Fast forward more than ten years later and this was the first image that sprang to mind when someone uttered the words ‘Digital by Default Alpha Review’.

As is usually the case, the fear is of the unknown. I want to share some of my experience in the hope I can prevent you from having similar traumatic flashbacks!

It's not scary

So firstly, it's not something to fear. Not if you know your project. The panel want to talk to someone who has responsibility and accountability for and within the project - they don't want a briefed figurehead.

I've been on the Secure Comms project from the beginning, living and breathing our user needs with the rest of the team. I have the pleasure (and the burden) of understanding the history of the project, what decisions I've made and how they’ve moulded and shaped the project into what it is today.

I know exactly why things are the way they are and I can explain that. Don't underestimate the importance of that.

It's a conversation

One of the things that worked really well at out our review was our focus on showing the thing.

I spent about ten minutes giving an overview of the project, just enough to explain what our overarching user need was and how our service would meet it.

It really was quick - for the actual description of the service I used our elevator pitch. Why tell them about it when they are about to see it in action?

Then, in the best double act since Torville and Dean, our Lead Developer, Kevin Adams, and User Researcher, Chris Beardsell, walked the panel through the prototype.

Liz Whitefield (Delivery Manager), Rachel Woods (Product Owner), Chris Beardsell (User Researcher) and Kevin Adams (Lead Developer) pictured straight after their GDS Alpha review
Liz Whitefield (Delivery Manager), Rachel Woods (Product Owner), Chris Beardsell (User Researcher) and Kevin Adams (Lead Developer) pictured straight after their GDS Alpha review

As they did they talked about what users had said, what changes had been made and what work we had done with partners to get the solution right. By the time we had finished the demo we had actually covered most of the points within the review criteria.

The criteria are really helpful in ensuring you've thought about all the aspects of your project. I still came out thinking, "I forgot to mention..." But the criteria really help you to have a framework for ensuring you cover all the good stuff you and your team have done. It helps you as much as it helps the panel.

It's an opportunity

Lastly you can't underestimate the value of the independent critical eye. We’re still learning on our team and the review is a great opportunity to get some insight on how you’ve been working as well as what you’ve been working on and get some recommendations.

I'm so proud of what the Secure Communications team has achieved in passing the review and moving into Beta. It was exciting to show our ideas and work to a group of people who really got where we were coming from.

It’s a good feeling, so my last – and possibly most important - piece of advice is ‘enjoy it’!

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Simon Johnson posted on

    Thanks for sharing that account. It was really helpful!