February 04, 2019
Working with dozens of teams in central government, Valtech has passed, or rather ‘met the standards’ for, 40+ government service assessments. We've learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t. We'd like to share some insights with you to help your teams succeed.
The Service Standard Assessment ensures that government services meet the standards set by GDS. It shouldn’t be a negative experience. Instead you’ll get an audit of your service, with constructive feedback from people who have worked on services like yours. One of the aims is to discourage groups in government who think they can do things differently. All services have to be built with the same core principles, meaning assessments are consistent and fair.
The government service standard is regularly reviewed and improved. Everyone in the team needs to understand the 18 service standard criteria. Here are some ways our teams work to make sure the assessment is not treated as a last minute governance gate:
Follow and measure the standards from day one
In the early days of the service you won’t be expected to have met all the criteria. You should still know what work needs to be done, so don’t leave this to the last minute! As part of sprint reviews or show and tells, we provide a RAG (Red, Amber, Green) status for each of the criteria with tasks to ensure they are met.
Early engagement across all groups in the business is key. This includes compliance, security, information and governance. You need to be talking with them from the start. It's about planning, early on.
We make contact with GDS as early as possible, this is usually done by the Service Manager for the business. We invite them to get involved and bring them to the team's location to see the service. This has two benefits - they get visibility of the service and also give you advice. Even if they aren’t the decision makers on the panel, they become a friendly face. It's a more relaxed atmosphere in the assessment if you already know some of the people.
Run independent mock assessments
We run regular mock assessments. This helps teams see which areas need more work and also where they have already met the standards. We use our Delivery Managers, Technical Architects, Business Analysts and User Researchers to run mock assessments for other Valtech projects – under realistic conditions!
This helps with preparation, ensuring there is no complacency. It also provides valuable feedback before meeting the real assessment team.
If you'd like us to run a mock assessment, get in touch.
Test variants of designs
It’s important not to waste time making things perfect, especially when it comes to design. You may want it to be the finished article from day one, but this won’t help in an assessment.
You need to be able to show how your design has evolved and where you’ve iterated it based on user research. This shouldn’t be the same screen 100 times, it should be patterns or tasks that you've tested and improved on.
Use techniques such as prototype versioning and screenshots to save you time later down the line. You don’t want to be rolling back your prototype the week before the assessment.
Engage across government
Make use of the huge community across government. GDS love to see cross-government and cross-service collaboration. In our recent projects, we've worked with GOV.UK Verify & Notify, NHS Citizen ID. We’re constantly sharing services across projects. We build on existing work and share knowledge across teams.
Try to get access to the cross-government Slack. This is a great resource to get help and answers when you need them. It’ll also help with the visibility of your service across government.
Work in the open and don’t be afraid to share with other suppliers.
Answer the assessment question, not your own question
At the assessment, you'll be asked about the work you’ve done, and the best approach is to answer as concisely as possible. The panel need to assess your service against the standards, so they’ll ask you how you work and look at your approach. It's important to stay humble and don’t force the conversation to express your own view.
All the questions will be reasonable, the panel are never trying to catch you out. There’s no need to go into the depths of what happened when and why, as there isn't enough time.
It's also important that the right specialist in the team speaks. So, try not to answer each other's questions!
Bring the right artefacts to showcase your work
Don’t rely on slides. Bring physical artefacts, that tell the story of your service. We recommend you use specialist printers to print your service design. Try to take photos of the whole team involved in playback sessions, assumptions mapping exercises and stand ups.
Along with these, you’ll have your screenshots and recordings. These are helpful for the assessment panel, who will be new to your service. It's important that there are pictures to look at while you tell a story. A picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings and user research videos are worth 1000 Highest Paid Person’s opinions.
Follow best practices
We have a blueprint for an approach that works - this helps guide what the team does from week 1 through to week 7 or 8. The approach changes through alpha, beta and live. Here are a few of the differences:
Alpha assessment - show you understand your user's needs and know what will work. Show you understand the risks. Show that you know the service and can build it.
Beta assessment - prove your service is accessible, you have a team who are continuously improving it and you’re building things in the right way
Live assessment - you have a service. Show your KPIs and what legacy services you are retiring. Prove you've tested disaster recovery and tested with the minister.
There's much more to it than would fit in this short post. Contact us and we’ll go into more depth, with relevant guidance for your service.
You can find more information about the work we do with the UK Public sector here.