Applying the Digital Service Standard to HR services

The Department of Home Affairs takes us through their process in transforming the staff experience using human resource systems.

DHA staff sorting cards during user research

The Digital Service Standard is not just for citizens. It can completely transform the experience for staff engaging with important internal systems and processes, improving staff productivity in the process.

Creating the team

A new team was established to redesign the Department of Home Affairs’ online human resource (HR) system – MyHR. The team was multidisciplinary and comprised user researchers, content writers, publishers, creative designers, web developers and solution architects.

We adopted agile Kanban and Scrum methods.

Recruiting usability test subjects

About 23,000 people work at the Department of Home Affairs. The chance to influence and shape an important service for thousands of their colleagues proved to be enticing for nearly 70 employees spread across Australia and the department’s overseas network.

Understanding the problem

We identified major pain points by using offline and online research tools including tree testing, first-click tests and card sorting.

From talking to our colleagues, we found that simple enquiries about pay, leave and conditions that could have been resolved through self-service on MyHR, were being escalated to phone and mailbox channels. Staff were waiting up to several weeks to receive a response to their HR enquiries. It was not uncommon to hear of lost lunch hours spent on hold trying to get through to the HR helpdesk, only to later be directed to send an email.

Staff stories were backed up by the heightened volume of enquiries recorded by higher cost support channels. Despite this, very little existed in the way of evidence-based data about the problem.

We also found that the most common problems were counterintuitive site navigation and layout, a poor search function and a global miscomprehension of the content contained on the portal. The content was mainly targeted to HR practitioners, not for general staff hence their confusion and lack of use.

Measuring for baseline

One of the earliest activities during discovery was to establish baseline measures about site navigation. These were used to test and measure improvements over time.

We chose 4 measures: search time, search success/accuracy, search directness and user navigation pathways. The latter enabled us to see where backtracking was occurring.

Drawing on channel analyses, we identified 10 high-traffic and high-priority issues that staff were enquiring about consistently. These were mainly related to pay, leave, allowances, work, health and safety, and performance.

We provided the priority scenarios to the user group as the basis of site navigation testing and the results were astounding.

Using dedicated online UX tools, we observed that across the user group, some scenarios returned average search success rates as low as 19%. Further, searches that should have only taken four clicks to reach a desired page, were taking upwards of 18. We successfully captured baselines for all 4 measures across 10 scenarios.

Usability results

When asked to perform an actual search on MyHR itself, instead of searching via the navigation pane, which users felt was located outside of their direct line of sight, many users opted to use the search function. Search using this method regularly returned incorrect results, with one user lamenting that the search function “is not good enough to perform a search using keywords – you have to know exactly what you’re looking for and where to find it”.

From our user testing, it became clear that a completely revised information architecture and thesaurus of search terms would need to be developed during the implementation phase. We would also need to bring along the subject matter experts for the journey.

Now that we had the results of the testing and understood the problem, it was time to start testing solutions. 

Making it easier to find the information online

A high priority was getting key stakeholders on board. Asking subject matter experts to move away from HR-centric jargon and towards user-friendly language represented a sizeable shift in thinking.

Findings from the discovery phase highlighted user preferences around site navigation, layout, visual look and feel, language and content. So, the team set about producing early prototypes of the new portal. This included content structured around the new home, landing, overview and content pages and a new “employee journey” feature for organising the information architecture.

Working closely with subject matter experts, our content writers conducted extensive page and content audits which led to a new content model. They co-designed content, ensuring the user was always kept front of mind.

We tested each stage and element of these designs with our user group, and fed results into the next design iteration. This allowed for continual course correction on design elements, done in a cost-effective way.

Our team worked around the clock to rapidly iterate major elements of the site, including a new megamenu, navigational aids, explainer videos, quick access links and the language, layout and format of content.

Approvals of site visual and information designs allowed the team to move towards developing a minimum viable product (MVP) in close collaboration with ICT at Home Affairs.

Building the solution

Once we received the green light to start site build, our content writing ramped up and we worked to design and reframe content for over 80 pages users identified as important and frequently visited subjects.

We really hit our stride and fully embraced agile ways of working. Sprint backlogs, kanbans and daily stand-ups had become second nature. We saw quick wins and progress towards a new and improved MyHR.

Meanwhile, curiosity and excitement for the beta site was building with our colleagues, who had been taken on every step of the journey with the project team.

After we produced our MVP we conducted accessibility and user acceptance testing to ensure we could address any major bugs quickly. This was an invaluable process which led to fast fixes in the lead up to the launch.

Now that beta is launched, it is time to measure improvements in usability.

Measuring improvements

We think back to where it all started and why we initiated this project. It was to improve the self-service capability, so staff can find what they are looking for as quickly and easily as possible. Reducing the use of high cost support channels and also allowing staff to resolve their HR needs more efficiently is the positive outcome we wanted to achieve.

We revisited the measures around site navigation that we baselined during discovery. Using the identical 10 search scenarios and a consistent testing format, we were excited to see where there had been improvements to search time, success/accuracy, directness and user navigation pathways. We weren’t disappointed!

For example, we asked our users to search for information about overseas postings. In the old information architecture, just 19% of our user group could successfully find the page they were looking for. On our beta site, this figure jumped to 82%.

Similarly, information on workstation assessments was previously a common enquiry to HR support channels. In baselining, just 38% of our user group could find this information. Following an extensive review of work, health, and safety content and introducing a new information architecture, 100% of our user group found the right page straight away. Previously, where users would click 18 times before either finding the workstation assessments page or abandoning their search, they now found the page in just 4 clicks.

As a team, we were proud to observe improvements across all 10 scenarios.

But the work is far from over. Our team will continue to make iterations to MyHR over the coming weeks and months and hopefully leave our legacy. As our project winds down, we can say that the digital service standard is not just for citizens. It can, and does, transform employee experiences across the Australian Public Service.