Doing Discovery in Government

Guest blog by Anne Judd, Department of Immigration and Border Protection

There’s always uneasiness when your project catches the eye of another government body, such as the newly formed Digital Transformation Office (DTO).

Already tight delivery timeframes feel a little tighter and the risk a little greater. Then you breathe out, and start to understand the benefits that such a partnership can bring to an initiative like the one we’re planning at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP).

Our users need to book appointments with our department for a range of reasons. Managing the flow of these requests is not just complex, it also spans multiple locations.

We want to improve our services so people can book online quickly and easily, and streamline the process for our staff. So we were excited to partner with the DTO on our queue management and online booking capability which we’ll be piloting in Melbourne early next year.

We’ve completed the Discovery phase as part of this project to help us streamline and simplify requirements.

Delivering digital

As an agency that delivers a digital service, our focus would normally be on technology to get us there. But by broadening our understanding of how to build digital services, the DTO has ensured we place our efforts squarely on the real users of the service.

Following the DTO’s Service Design and Delivery process, our team spent five weeks in the Discovery phase where we’ve been developing a good understanding of our users, their needs and the service landscape. It’s the first criteria in the Digital Service Standard.

By partnering with the DTO and an external supplier, we’ve significantly benefited from the thoughtful, experienced and independent perspective they brought to the table – particularly on our interactions with users. The DTO provided expertise around the user experience – something that may not usually receive such focus in our area – and helped us see that some of our assumptions needed to be revisited. Our user researchers challenged our thinking and showed that what we ‘thought’ was needed wasn’t always the case.

Challenging times

There have been some challenges along the way, but the team dynamic – formed early on – is resilient enough to work through these. The Agile approach to development can be at odds with the governance we’ve traditionally required, but we’ve been able to work through the ‘no compromise’ activities and follow an Agile methodology as consistently as possible in all other areas.

Progress has been terrific. As one of our first collaborations with the DTO, we’ve worked through the teething problems and are now ready to move from Discovery to the Alpha stage. Traditionally, my role would have been been project manager, but in this multi-disciplinary team I’m the product manager – this reflects the shift in thinking that services aren’t an end-to-end project, but rather products that continually need to be iterated and improved.

I’m still clinging to my need for a task list, delivery timelines and clear resource allocations, but I’ve learnt to do this with Post-It notes and story cards. We now use photos to record process maps, not software.

Stakeholder showcases

We’ve showcased our work with key stakeholders and I’ve been amazed at how much there is to be gained by walking our business areas – including policy, systems and staff providing services to external users – through our journey maps.

There have been a few surprises along the way with some policy imperatives and how these are being managed on the ground. These have presented some challenges, but have shown how flexible and adaptable our staff can be when delivering our services.

We’ve also held weekly showcases to allow other stakeholders to ‘walk our rooms’. The intent behind these is to share our learnings and experience from working with the DTO. As a department that will be delivering many more services that comply with the Service Standard, this has been a valuable cross-skilling opportunity.

I’m looking forward to the Alpha design and delivery stage of our service, continuing to be more ‘agile’ and ‘tempering’ the pace when needed to ensure we deliver an exceptional service for our users.

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