Sticky notes, sticky notes & more sticky notes

Department of Communications and the Arts Director of Digital Services, Nicholas Keilar, shares his experience of being one of the first government department team members to work with the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) on GOV.AU.

For the last 2 weeks I have worked alongside staff at the DTO in the GOV.AU team based in Sydney. The reason? To help work out how we can best get content from the Department of Communications and the Arts websites onto GOV.AU for its Beta launch.

For many years I have studied the agile way but in practice have only touched on it here and there. So I am excited to be experiencing it in practice. Here is what I’ve learned so far:

Share your ideas without fear

If I was to sum up my first week at the DTO in 1 sentence it would be sticky notes, sticky notes and more sticky notes.

To the uninitiated, the DTO Sydney hub may look like chaos; sticky notes, posters and diagrams covering every spare bit of wall. But there is method in the madness. Information and ideas are shared, there is an open and proactive attitude with everyone focusing on the best path to our goals.

This is in contrast to stereotypical government teams, where people can be siloed and defensive about their work.

On GOV.AU, team members are not afraid to share what hasn’t worked, or where they are experiencing challenges so that the team can all pitch in to suggest solutions.

The GOV.AU Department of Communications and the Arts team sharing ideas

Caption: The GOV.AU Department of Communications and the Arts team running a meeting in DTO’s Sydney hub.

You are not a role, you are part of a team

My role at the Department of Communications and the Arts is to manage the websites and publishing. At the DTO my role is more fluid — to do whatever is needed to help the project. That could be set up a survey, run a user interview or analyse information.

Everyone seems to be very much a team member, pitching in towards a shared goal rather than being limited to a ‘role’. No one just sticks to their job description.

Teams are made up of many different specialists, developers, content designers, researchers etc. But everyone pitches in to do whatever needs to be done at each stage of the project. There is a real feeling of joint ownership.

Try, if you fail, learn from it and try again

Fear of failing can stop a great idea. I’ve learned that an idea does not have to be original or new, just untried. In the first days, a team member suggested ‘let’s put a survey on the site to see who the real users are’.

My first thought was that won’t work. Who fills in surveys? Expecting nothing but negative feed back I was very surprised how well it worked. I also discovered a new way to make changes to the department’s site without the need for a developer.

I also conducted what I thought was a failed interview. On hindsight we learned that the person we spoke to was not the user we were looking for. This realisation in itself was helpful.

I’m still excited about the weeks ahead at the DTO and utilising the agile way. I want to bring the ideas back to the department. I believe that many in the department want to share more openly, want to try new things, but are not sure how, or if they can. I am looking forward to helping them explore a new approach.

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