The report from the alpha assessment for Civil Service Learning's Course Booking service on 11 November 2015.
Department / Agency:
CO / CSL
Date of Assessment:
Result of Assessment:
About the service
Civil Service Learning (CSL) runs an outsourced learning portal for around 450,000 users. The main provision is to host generic learning products and enable face to face course bookings. It was designed around 4 years ago and is sub-optimal. CSL is committed to deliver a service that meets Digital by Default standards. The transformation is complex, so to de-risk delivery as the learning contract with current learning providers draws to a close in early 2016 they service team decided to make improvements to the current booking service first.
Outcome of service assessment
After consideration the assessment panel has concluded the Civil Service Learning (Course Booking) service is not yet on track to meet the Digital Service Standard at this early stage of development.
The Civil Service Learning team clearly has the desire and capabilities to deliver a great service, developing, testing and iterating prototypes that address the well defined user needs, but unfortunately is constrained by business needs.
The team is well structured, with a good balance of skills; it is clearly focussed on continuously improving the way it works, having already made a number of successful, vital improvements in the short time given to it. Changes to planning sessions, decoupling of booking and learning (albeit driven by a business deadline that prevents booking being developed and iterated appropriately), and successfully challenging the supplier are all positive examples of the team being empowered. The team is also fully engaged with the user research and hopefully this level of involvement continues as the service develops.
Crucially, the team is led by a dedicated, enthusiastic service manager who is clearly empowered - allowing the team to make these vital decisions. The governance of the alpha is appropriately light touch. The relationship between the service manager and SRO is highly effective, and the SRO is fully engaged.
The main concern of the panel was that the redevelopment of the course booking feature of the Civil Service Learning site is being driven by a business need - the end of the existing contract, with a very tight, rigid deadline - rather than by user needs. This is drastically constraining the way the team works.
The user needs are well understood, as a result of good work undertaken during the discovery phase. However, the findings are being used to prioritise “re-skinning” and re-development of an existing set of features, rather than testing approaches to meeting the user needs.
Due to time constraints the team have not managed to do a lot of usability testing. As a result, many decisions regarding the design of the solution appear to have been made because they are an experienced research/design team - rather than because ideas have been tested and iterated.
The physical separation of CSL and the supplier resulted in some concerns for the panel. The process around sign-off of designs prior to implementation by the supplier reduces the ability to get the rapid feedback from users needed to iterate. Research and design taking place in a separate location from the development introduces significant communication overheads. The supplier and CSL team are struggling to engage with the agile working practices together. The panel is concerned about the visibility of what gets deployed, speed of deployment and management of that process. Additionally, some of the supplier’s particular approaches - for example, around a heavy emphasis on manual testing and a lack of continuous integration capabilities - are very concerning.
More usability testing of the current prototype needs to be carried out, particularly in user lab sessions. This will enable a focus on meeting the core user needs and exploring some of the complex interaction patterns, rather than replicating features of the existing system.
The team must ensure they conduct research with more varied users, for example:
from the ‘front line’ (for example, staff at the border, in prisons, and in call centres)
with access needs (at least 8% of civil servants have a declared disability)
those who fall at the bottom end of the Digital Inclusion Scale
An additional resource to carry out recruitment of the users described above would help carry out the research work to a level which would meet the criteria required.
Continuing to link up with the work being done by the CTS team would further help reach out across government.
Whilst assisted digital support does not need to be provided for internally-facing services, if the scope of the service changes the user base, the team may need to undertake research with assisted digital users and design, test and provide appropriate support.
The current service excludes a lot of civil servants who either do not have the ability to use it, or who work in departments that prevent access to online learning, either through network restrictions or simply through the age of the IT equipment and software available to them. The team should consider how it could help those who currently struggle to access the service and increase take-up across the civil service.
Managing work across the CSL team and the supplier needs significant improvement, with communication needing to become more dynamic. The panel would want some assurance that the outputs of research and design get fed back into development.
The supplier must become more engaged in the agile process, working with CSL as a single team. Sprints, planning sessions, and daily stand-ups should be aligned, with representatives of both in attendance.
There is good use of data, for example, from Google Analytics, but the panel is concerned that the use of Management Information (MI) requires various handovers, and is focussed on reporting up to senior management. The panel recommends that the CSL and supplier teams integrate more closely with the MI team, such that data can be used more effectively to improve the service.
Some new design patterns have been created for the service. Once further user research and iteration has happened, these should be contributed back to the wider government design community.
No additional components of this platform are currently open source, and there is no policy to open source components. The panel requests that the team develop an open source policy, and open source components from the beginning of the project. It will be significantly easier to open source components now, rather than later in the project.
The panel recommend that the booking system should prevent suppliers being able to upload proprietary document formats, in line with government policy on the use of open document formats.
The Course Booking component of Civil Service Learning is unfortunately constrained by business driven timescales, and this is impacting on the team’s ability to deliver a user-centred prototype. However, the team clearly has the leadership, desire and capabilities to develop, test and iterate services in line with the standards we would expect at this stage.
With appropriate time to develop and iterate designs based on feedback from significantly increased research and testing, the team would be more than capable of delivering a great, user-centred service based on the well researched user needs.
Digital Service Standard criteria
Published: 6 January 2017
Assessment date: 11 November 2015