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Why principles matter

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Defra digital, Defra services, Digital transformation

Like many other government departments, Defra’s services, systems and operations have developed over time, often in response to specific policy initiatives. Our services have also sometimes been split across Defra group’s internal structures in ways that can be confusing to our customers.

Poor service design serves no one; it’s costly for the business and frustrating for the user.

At Defra we’re prioritising a digital approach to help us simplify our customer’s interactions with us and take out unnecessary business complexity. While we have an operational strategy – the Defra group Target Operating Model – to help us get there, it’s a complex process of change with a multitude of moving pieces.

Managing change in this context is hard work. We do not have the privilege of a blank canvas; we have to transition teams, programmes, and ways of working, while ensuring day-to-day business and operations are maintained to meet our policy needs. Given the inevitable ambiguity and flux, we’ve focused on building a common vocabulary to hold ourselves accountable at a high-level.

The Defra digital delivery principles reflect a working vision of what a digital mindset considers. From a practical standpoint, the principles provide a quick and easy checklist by which to inform and measure decisions at all levels.

These principles are:

  1. Being customer focussed
    Understanding our customers’ needs, and involving the customer all the way through delivery
  1. Following Government Digital Service agile delivery practice
    Working in an iterative way using tools and techniques to support distributed working.
  1. Working in multi-disciplined teams led by the business
    With empowered teams of suitably skilled business and IT professionals.
  1. Delivery cross-Defra
    Thinking and working collaboratively to implement and re-use common solutions where possible.
  1. Following our architectural vision and principles
    Using low cost cloud based services, common components and approaches.
  1. Work towards delivery of clear business benefits
    Taking a shared commitment to secure business outcomes that will deliver our strategic review commitments.

We are what we measure.

If that age old adage has merit, the Defra digital delivery principles have an important role to play in setting ourselves on the right digital trajectory.

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  1. Comment by Tina Burgess posted on

    A useful crib sheet for briefing staff.

  2. Comment by Randall posted on

    Interesting but I am a bit surprised that Defra's head of digital is using terms that GDS don't like - 'customers' instead of users, 'delivery' when it's not a parcel or pizza and the like.

    I also find the principles a bit vague - what is an 'empowered team', how do you involve 'customers' throughout?

    • Replies to Randall>

      Comment by Dominic Burton posted on

      Fair point. Language can be difficult, and digital change often means introducing new ways of describing the same things. The word "customers" is used a lot within Defra, largely because often people are actually buying something (for example, a fishing licence). So using "customer" helps us talk about "customer service" in a way that people across the organisation can relate to.

      Even so, we still say "users" when we're designing services, and we employ user researchers. Either way, users or customers, we want to do the right thing for the people we're here for.

      When we say "empowered teams", we mean the multidisciplinary agile teams who are building digital services and helping to transform how Defra works. They're empowered because they're trusted to make their own decisions. They have user researchers, they have the insights that user research provides. They're trusted to do the right thing.

      Really happy to continue the conversation.