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DWP Digital Academy: putting the theory into practice

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Agile development, Digital Academy, Learning & Development

The Digital Academy offers a fantastic opportunity to change the way DWP delivers services to the public.

I’ve been working in Technology for a number of years following a stint in DWP operations. I’m currently a Digital and Technology fast streamer in an agile team leading on Assisted Digital. This is the whistle-stop tour of my experience on the DWP Digital Academy.

The Digital Academy is open to anyone in a digital role. There are no pre-requisites for doing the training - all you need is an open mind. It caters for everyone - from those with little to no knowledge of ‘agile’ to people already working in agile roles. It also leaves you with a community to support you in your future career.

The great thing is that it's not just teaching a new methodology, but also a new culture. It gives you a toolkit to use when and how you need it, and a great insight into how a digital team operates. Most importantly it teaches you skills you can put into practice on a real project.

The truth about agile working

When I first heard about agile I struggled to get past the fixation with post-its and daily group huddles. Having attended I would say the Academy is like nothing I’ve ever seen in government before - it represents a real investment in DWP staff and Civil Servants.

I took the 12 day course which taught me about agile principles, and then allowed me to put my learning into practice in a real project. The first few days involved some slick presentations from subject matter experts on agile and user testing - why it’s important and how to do it correctly.

The information sessions were interspersed with group exercises which were both entertaining and effective at reinforcing your learning.

Practical skills applied to real-life projects

Most of the learning is hands-on. Once we were organised into teams we set about solving a real-life project. Ours was about the support offered to Academy graduates after completing the Academy. This involved us using our user testing skills by conducting interviews for our ‘Discovery’.

We then got into ‘our Alpha’ which involved designing a prototype using tools from industry. In our case we used Balsalmiq . Once we had our prototype we went back to user testing, as one of the main features of agile is ‘Show the Thing’. From the user testing feedback we improved our service, ready to do some more user testing.

The Academy provides a real problem to work on. We learned how to prototype and test, and we also used agile principles to manage and organise our team. Although certain roles are important in supporting the team, my experience of the Academy mirrored working in my team day to day, where we all muck in to get things done.

In addition to our project exercises, there were keynote speakers explaining agile frameworks and in-flight projects such as Universal Credit Digital Service. In the spirit of the Academy I was also able to share my experience of passing GDS service assessments and tell people about Assisted Digital. And I got the chance to write some code and understand some of the basic principles of how the internet works.

The Academy is not simply a skills building exercise. It’s truly transformational in the way we deliver our services as a department. The Academy has improved my user research skills, and my understanding of all aspects of creating a digital service. I’m much more effective in my team as a result and feel equipped to build even better digital services for citizens.

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