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Exploring the “it depends” of Service Management

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"The thing is, it depends."

This was the phrase that was on everyone’s lips at the recent (and first) Service Manager Digital Academy.

One of the best things about the course was meeting Service Managers from across Government. As we shared our blockers during the “make, test and learn” session, we found that a lot of the challenges we’re facing are the same: multiple governance routes, making the agile model work within budget and finding space to work collaboratively.

Alison Simpson, Service Manager
Alison Simpson, Service Manager

As we brainstormed potential solutions to our issues, it became clear that while our problems were similar, a “one-size-fits-all” solution just wouldn’t work. The machinations of each Government department mean different processes to follow and boards to pass. And of course, we all have different users, with different needs. It really does depend.

Another variable was the structure of the digital teams and the role of the Service Manager within that team. One member of the cohort was Director of Operations for the whole end-to-end service, so managed both the digital and non-digital elements. In DWP, Service Managers sometimes have a whole portfolio of services to manage and usually only focus on the digital part of the service. Again, it depends on how the rest of the organisation is set up.

On our final day of training, we had a great chat with James Thornett from Government Digital Service (GDS), about how their assessments have developed over the last few years. The initial, more fixed approach of “you must do it like this” has become much more nuanced.

Now, you may be thinking, great, a more flexible approach that takes into consideration different user needs, business functions and organisational structures. What’s not to like? Well, it depends.

If the rules can be flexed, then everything becomes a little more subjective. One panel member’s opinion could be quite different to another’s. And those opinions could be the difference between passing the accreditation or not. The strict service standards have done their job and make everyone across Government sit up and realise that we need to do things differently - and most importantly, maintain consistency for users.

Now that we’re a few years into assessing live services against the standards, and having experienced the process myself, I like the sound of a balance between flexibility and consistency. But of course, it depends!

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