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Internal service assessments: how we maintain quality

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Hi, my name’s Alex and I’m a Digital Standards Manager in Home Office. My role is to support our digital teams to meet the Government Digital Service Standard.

What is the standard and why does it matter?

The GDS Standard is a set of 18 criteria to help government create and run good digital services. Although the standard is only mandatory for public-facing transactional services, we hold all our internal services to the same standard.

This is because our internal users are really important too. If we build great services which meet their needs, we help staff do their jobs more easily and quicker. Ultimately, this can save us money, improve our operational efficiency and provide a better service to the public.

So how do we ensure and maintain the quality of what we build?

Collaborate and ask questions

We think that early collaboration between teams and assessors helps us build better services. This means we’re asking all our teams to get in touch at the end of discovery (rather than the end of alpha). At this point, we assign a panel who will review the service all the way from the end of discovery through to live.

How often you check in for an assessment is up to you and the panel to agree on. Some teams opt for assessments at the end of each delivery phase, others find shorter reviews on a more ongoing basis more helpful.

Whatever you choose the panel stays the same. This means they get to know the service, the team and the business context so that any time spent in an assessment isn’t wasted explaining the background. The team can ask questions and draw support when needed.

Meeting the standard is a team sport

It’s not up to your delivery manager, the service manager or your assessment panel to ensure you meet the standard. Everyone in the team is responsible. We’ve had teams track progress against the standard using Trello or dividing standard criteria up and reporting progress in sprint reviews. When the standard becomes part of the team’s delivery process - it helps build a good service.

More assessors, better support

We’ve got A LOT of services. So having a small pool of assessors isn’t going to cut the biscuit if we want to make sure teams get the support they need. So we’re training more people, across the digital disciplines and in HO business areas. We want more people with knowledge of the standard to share best practice and expertise. The more we get it, the more we embed it, the better our services become.

More talk, less interrogation

Who ever liked exams at school? So why would we do it now? No more 18 pages of prompts and guidance. No more pre-prepared answers to a pre-prepared set of questions.

Thanks to GDS we’ve now got a one-page assessment agenda. One page with five thematic areas covering the 18 criteria.

Let’s have a conversation about the great thing you’re building and use the time to work out if it would help to do more research with that second user group, or consider an alternative hosting option. Let’s not create weeks of preparation and sweaty palms.

Users, users, users

The most common reason a service doesn’t meet the standard is because the team hasn’t understood their user need. So when we meet a new team or see a new service, the first question is and should always be about the user. If we get that right, we build from the right place.

It’s all about the good stuff

When you pass an assessment, shout about it and share what you did and how you did it with other teams. Sharing the good stuff really helps.



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