Building trusted relationships and fostering a collaborative environment between clients and vendors in Digital Service delivery is at the forefront of every project we deliver here at BetterGov. Like a hand in a glove, cost optimisation is the 'all leading' compass dial. We know that this leads to affordable and sustainable changes that are useful and trusted by our clients. By doing what we do and doing it well, we aim to progressively minimise our role, instil confidence, and empower independent progress with robust support throughout the process.
Throughout the BetterGov service delivery journey, we continuously prioritise these eight core elements
Engage and understand key stakeholders
Clearly define outcomes
Create a one-team culture
Active engagement by the Service Owner
Internal capability development
Regular standups and show-and-tell
Shift left and shadowing
1 | Engage and Understand Key Stakeholders
Trusted relationships hinge on essential principles. Early collaboration in various formats and an unwavering commitment to working closely with the key stakeholders significantly enhance the chances of success. Establishing early relationships between us and the team responsible for running the service helps anticipate and prepare for its integration into their processes. Or, more importantly, strong relationships with senior stakeholders ease challenges when they arise – no delivery is perfect. By spending the time, care and attention to understand our executives' challenges, providing a supportive ear, and genuinely engaging on both the human and professional levels, we build trust that can be relied upon at times of need and in the years to come.
2 | Clearly define outcomes
During the contracting phase, defining clear outcomes is crucial. Recognising that these outcomes may evolve as the project progresses through various phases of digital delivery according to the Service Standard. Trust cultivated in the early stages significantly improves the potential for successful outcomes. A ‘Definition of Done’ at inception is critical – this will always be the key measure by which the delivery will be judged and will be the crux of the committed outcome. While delivery itself will be done in an agile fashion, following the GDS Service Standard, with regular demonstration of how the product is evolving, the Definition of Done ensures that everyone is aiming for the same target. Vital user research at the Discovery phase and ongoing throughout delivery effectively informs the Definition of Done. It provides the business with regular feedback so that they can see how the product evolves to deliver business outcomes.
3 | Create a one-team culture
We ensure no distinction between the clients and vendor partners in all our engagements. Regardless of affiliation and paymaster, each team member checks that badge at the virtual door and wears the metaphorical client armband. This ensures that the teams behave in a unified manner and that all parties actively engage in a mutually agreed collaborative culture.
Where possible, at the start of any engagement, we propose workshops across all team members to build an effective covenant and trust between team members. This ensures that a collaborative culture develops that is trust-based and mutually respectful, with all members focused on delivering the business and technical outcomes
4 | Active engagement by the Service Owner
Effective outcome delivery can best be done through a committed Service Owner. The Service Owner is responsible for the end-to-end service, including business and operations, which is larger than the technical delivery and outcomes. Sitting between business, technology delivery, and operations, the Service Owner ensures that the company remains informed throughout the product evolution while ensuring that the operations teams understand how to support the new product in service.
5 | Internal capability development
Early in the engagement, BetterGov works with client stakeholders, the Service Owner in particular, to identify potential gaps in capability. By design, when the product is handed over, BetterGov will hand over the entire solution to civil servants. We ask fundamental questions – do the civil servant team members understand the technology and delivery methodologies? Is there capability to support the product once the vendor team completes its work? Does the support team have the right infrastructure to improve the product continually? In asking these questions, we create a matrix with the client on where teams need upskilling. For example, if developers aren't entirely comfortable with the chosen development language, we pair them with our developers until they are comfortable. If methodologies are not aligned, we will ensure workshops are in place to get everyone on board.
Our main goal is to ensure that when we leave a project, the civil servant team feels they have received more than an excellent deliverable and that they have improved their personal and professional skills as a result of their engagement with BetterGov.
6 | Regular Standups and Show-and-Tells
It comes as no surprise that all BetterGov deliveries primarily follow the GDS Service Standards. Of the guidance on agile principles and ways of working, we are particularly keen on the tenet "Go see for yourself." By regularly participating in Show-and-Tells, key stakeholders at all levels remain aligned, and the product can be stress tested. Business users and the service owner get regular insight into the product and whether it will achieve the desired outcomes. Ongoing user research is key to ensuring that what's being built is what the users need and that a feedback loop can be fostered back to the business through this mechanism. By fostering – and insisting upon – this level of openness and transparency, trust and collaborative culture continues to evolve.
7 | Shift Left and Shadowing
Often, there are different civil servant teams doing product delivery and operations, especially in a vendor-heavy engagement. Keeping on the theme of one-team, the delivery team actively engages with the operations team throughout the delivery lifecycle, even from the early discovery phase. Operations and support are users, too, and their needs must be considered from the outset to have a successful service, so user research must be done on how the new service will integrate into a support organisation.
As delivery progresses into private beta, it's key to second a technologist from the support organisation into delivery, ensuring that there is core technical knowledge early in the support lifecycle. They can provide valuable insight into how technical decisions potentially impact the support teams. The term for this approach is 'shift left', bringing people in from the end of a delivery cycle much earlier.
Similarly, as part of our delivery, some staff will 'shift right' and embed with the operations team for a time after the product is delivered. This approach is both a 'shadowing' concept, letting the support team fully upskill while having the product delivery team available if needed, as well as advice. For example, how will the support team evolve the service after it's deployed.
8 | Seamless Handovers
Successful implementation of the core delivery phases, especially considering the above points, leads to a seamless service handover and happy staff. Especially toward the end of public beta and as the service prepares to enter the live service, the extra support as part of shift left and shadowing ensures successful delivery.
We know that if we do all these things properly, especially setting ourselves up for success at the outset, civil service colleagues can take the service live – pain-free. We will have the satisfaction that not only was the delivery successful but that we have left the client environment, as well as individual civil service team members, in a better place. And that we are no longer needed.
That's ultimately what we're about; we're BetterGov.
Authored by David Lewis, strategic lead at BetterGov.
"I've been working in digital transformation with His Majesty's Government on and off for several years. I've been on both the buyer and supplier sides of the equation. I've seen digital services supported by vendors go phenomenally well, just as I have seen trainwrecks – both in the bidding process and in active delivery" – David Lewis