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Seeing user research and design up close in my internship

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Emily Greenman, DWP intern
Emily Greenman, DWP intern

I’m Emily Greenman, a second-year Digital Media student at the University of Leeds, and I’m one of six interns in the Digital Academy in the Leeds Transformation Hub this summer. As a digital media student, there are certain expectations you have when applying for internships related to the field, usually being based around shadowing, watching and getting coffee. More so, I had absolutely no idea what to expect when coming to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). However, coming to the final weeks of my internship, my expectations have been surpassed massively, changing the way I (and hopefully future students) look at work experience and the DWP.

Learning new skills through the Foundation Course

The first two (and a bit) weeks were spent on the foundation course in the DWP Digital Academy. All six interns were put into the same cohort along with Civil Service employees, where we learnt how to work in a team and produce a digital service, using technology to improve a system that would have previously been clerical.

I found myself very much in the deep end when we started the foundation course. It was completely different to anything I had done before, and I started to doubt why I was even here in the first place. To start with I felt that I wasn’t using the skills I had come here with to the best of my ability, but I actually found that this was a good thing. It gave me a great opportunity to try out different team roles, and getting stuck into tasks I would normally try and avoid.

The course also gave me a mass of transferable skills that could be used in any work place, Agile or not. I also found that I gained a lot of skills that could be used in my university work. The organizational and critical thinking skills can be used when trying to prioritise my studies, balancing coursework and preparing myself in a much more constructive way. The course also gave me a really good set up moving into the rest of our internship and because the whole Transformation Hub works in this Agile way, I was now able to understand the process these teams go through and to jump straight in to help wherever I was needed.

Overall the foundation course was stimulating and enjoyable, a really good start to our internship.

Collaborating across teams and in the team

To get some real-life experience in what we had learnt from our training, we spent three weeks moving around different teams in the hub, getting a feel for how teams build real services. It was at this point in my internship where I wanted to focus on seeing how the various design roles worked within these teams, but in fact I got the chance to see all aspects. Most of my time was spent with user researchers and designers, who I found go hand in hand when it comes to building a service that is exactly what the user needs. Iteration is also really important in these teams, particularly for the designers who are constantly changing, updating and improving their services so that they are the best they can be.

Emily with Sophie Lambert, user researcher in the Secure Communications service
Emily with Sophie Lambert, user researcher in the Secure Communications service

Overall I worked with five teams over three weeks, some only for the day, but it was interesting to see how although all the teams I saw were using the same methodology for working, every team used it in a different way. This was clear when I was asked to find a way of displaying the outcomes and insights from the most recent user research sessions in a way that is easily explainable to the rest of the team. Before I started, I walked around the different teams to see if I could get any inspirations from the other teams’ kanban boards, and found that each team displayed their user research in different ways. This meant I was able to take what I thought was the most useful for my team from each of these ideas to build a hybrid kanban board that made sense for the team I was on. This just shows how dynamic this way of working really is, and that collaboration can be really positive.

I’ve felt very involved in every team I have worked with, and they have made sure I got really stuck into the work. I had plenty of opportunity to collaborate with people on many tasks, and overall I had a very challenging and rewarding time.

The interns are now an Agile service team

My final two weeks will be spent with the rest of the interns on our own project, taking what we have learnt throughout the rest of the internship to redesign the DWP Internship Programme for 2017 and create an online service for students who are interested in an internship. I feel that the last six weeks have really prepared me for this, using my training and real-world application from the work experience, and combining all those skills in our own project to see how we work together as a team.

This internship has given me a fantastic opportunity and real insight into the world of DWP. Not only that, it has also shown me that a person’s role is very fluid, and if you have a certain role it doesn’t mean that you will be limited to just doing tasks associated with that role. It’s really changed my perspective on the way of working in a team. It has been a hardworking but enjoyable experience, and I am very excited to be working on our own project.

Interns from the University of Leeds: Sam, Callum, Holly, Lewis, Emily and George (left to right)
Interns from the University of Leeds: Sam, Callum, Holly, Lewis, Emily and George (left to right)

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