Partnering to deliver better government services

The latest myGov improvements are a result of a partnership between the DTA and the Department of Human Services. Ashley Hutton talks about the benefits of partnering with agencies to transform government digital services.

A DTA Delivery Manager leading a delivery team at the Department of Human Services.
Caption: A DTA Delivery Manager working with a delivery team at the Department of Human Services.

Digital transformation in government is much more than making a few cosmetic changes to the public-facing aspects of a service or website. It involves multiple agencies and parties working together to take a holistic view of the service and shed old ways of doing things in favour of new, more efficient methods.

The DTA is leading this transformation effort across government by developing a stock of toolkits, guides and standards, including the Digital Service Standard, and partnering with agencies to help them improve the way they deliver services. The end goal is to make it easy for users to do the business they have to do with government, and to do it online.

These partnerships range in scale and duration, from providing short-term expertise or embedding staff in delivery teams, to long-term intensive partnerships where digital services are designed, developed and delivered.

Transforming government service delivery requires adopting new methodologies and processes. This includes creating more collaborative and agile environments to work in, bringing together multidisciplinary teams to design and deliver products or services, breaking down internal silos and involving users at each step.

Becoming agile

Transforming large organisations, particularly complex government agencies, can take time to get right. This means it can also take time for people using government to see evidence of change. However, there is a larger story playing out behind the scenes that details the progress and change taking place.

Most large government organisations have well defined structures and processes that dictate how they deliver digital services — these were established well before we landed in the digital age.

Projects tend to run along traditional ICT project management lines, in what is known as a waterfall approach. The waterfall approach progresses projects along a linear path. It provides easily identifiable milestones in the development process and is best suited to projects where the requirements and scope are fixed.

Waterfall works well in some scenarios, such as when a project is a repeat of something which has been done before. But this is not common in government so a flexible process is needed. It is particularly important to be able to pivot if the goal posts change or new information or research comes to light. Adhering rigidly to a process can prevent important adjustments being considered which better meet the needs of users.

In contrast to this traditional approach, the DTA applies, and advocates for Agile project management practices. In fact, this is a crucial element of the Australian Government’s Digital Service Standard. The standard is focused on creating a more collaborative and agile work environment, bringing together a multidisciplinary team and talking to users early and throughout the process. This approach allows a team to deliver continuously, making small improvements quickly, and learning through testing with users.

On the ground delivery

DTA staff are currently embedded in the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services. One example of the work underway is the latest roll out of the new-look myGov. The changes were a result of a joint delivery team, using an agile approach, undertaking user research to identify key ‘pain points’ for users, and designing and iterating the service to deliver a better user experience.

Working alongside subject matter experts to do user research, project design and delivery gives the team a chance to learn by doing, and also highlights what changes an agency might need to make to continue working in the new way.

Doing this work in close partnership and onsite in the partner agency gives the team an opportunity to demonstrate the value of new ways of working to staff and executives close to the project, as they are able to see the benefits first hand.

Building digital capability within government

Building new capabilities in government is an important aspect of this work – skills which have not always been needed in the traditional service delivery model. The DTA has staff with skills in service design, user research, agile product management and delivery, and technical development work that are essential to operate in a digital world. Working in partnership allows DTA staff to pass on these skills and expertise and also to learn from subject matter experts in partner agencies.

It also helps to re-shape internal practices and processes, as people now have a new way of doing things and tackling problems. It’s an experience that goes both ways. DTA staff involved in the project also get to walk away with a deeper appreciation of the challenges faced at an agency level, and are better placed to tackle similar issues in the future.

Building government digital expertise and changing how we design, develop, iterate and deliver services to Australians will take time, but it’s through close partnerships arrangements that we will have the best chance of success.