19-20 April 2018

15Hatfields, London

Experiments in scaling agile in GOV.UK and GDS

Session type:
Case Study

Session duration:
45 minutes

Presented by:

Alan Wright

Government Digital Service

Jen Allum

Government Digital Service

Nick Tait

Government Digital Service

About this Case Study

GOV.UK is a mature programme of ~180 people with a strong history of agile working. At the end of 2016, we were looking for ways to be more responsive to change and deliver more value to our users sooner.

This session is about how and why we changed our way of working for the 2017 to 2018 financial year on GOV.UK, how we're scaling this out to all of the Government Digital Service (GDS), and what we're learning.

Background and problem statement

GOV.UK deliberately accrued technical debt to rapidly transition legacy sites to the single domain, and 2016/17 was a year where we were focused on consolidating technical debt and improving our architecture.

For 2017/18, we wanted to shift our focus towards:

  • delivering value to users incrementally and often
  • measuring progress and making decisions with data
  • sustainable building
  • being more responsive to change

The model we proposed

We proposed a new roadmap approach born out of observation about how well the programme was performing, which was supported by staff survey results.

Our goal for the year was to make the single domain work harder for users, and that would be achieved via 4 objectives. Each objective contains multiple teams. All teams work in quarterly missions (15-20 missions in total).

No mission lasts longer than 3 months. Scope is flexible, but time is fixed. Teams are given a problem to solve and must deliver value in 3 months.

We set the expectation that work will stop and start each quarter - there's no guarantee of additional quarters for continuation. This gives us the flexibility to change direction every quarter.

Metrics are used in all teams (where applicable) so we know how we’re doing. We have 3 firebreaks through the year, for everyone - just 1 week long each (similar to Google 20% time).

Sustainable building is a must - it means less technical debt - it’s not about shipping at all costs. Support work follows product managers, reducing single points of failure as different team members need to learn new parts of the stack.

This session will talk about this model, how we rolled it out and the changes we made at the end of each quarter - and why. Then we'll talk about how we're rolling it out across the whole of GDS.

About the Speakers

Alan Wright

Alan is Lead Delivery Manager on GOV.UK, a programme of around 20 multidisciplinary teams and 180 people. He has been at the Government Digital Service (GDS) since 2015 as a senior delivery manager on the GOV.UK Publishing Platform and delivery manager on Digital Marketplace.

Before GDS, he worked as a project manager in digital agencies, charities, political parties and video game production in London, Cambodia and Vietnam. A sporadic tweeter and self-professed geek, he’s happiest when talking about personal and team productivity, visualising things on Trello boards, playing Fantasy Premier League or watching cat videos. His less geeky pursuits include surfing, yoga, electronic music and travelling.


Jen Allum

Jen is Lead Product Manager for Verify, government's identity assurance programme. Prior to this she was the lead product manager for the single domain for government, GOV.UK. She joined the Government Digital Service in 2015.

Jen is interested in how ways of working affect delivery, how teams account for their success, and pragmatism over idealism.

Before joining the civil service, Jen spent more than 10 years in the private sector, most of which was with a commercial property company. Her formal training was in music, which still occupies her time.


Nick Tait

Nick Tait is the Head of the Agile Delivery Community at the Government Digital Service. Degrees in psychology and ergonomics led to a 20-year career in software development and project/programme delivery in both the private and the public sectors around the world.

As a civil servant, Nick values empowering, enabling and working with teams and organisations to deliver products and services that maintain agile philosophies and practices at their core. He recently contributed to the APM publication, Agile Project Management - A Panacea or Placebo for Project Delivery. Outside the civil service, Nick bakes bread and makes spoons and chairs. Find him on Instagram @fattaity.


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