Moving to Beta – lessons, learning and next steps

Learning a different approach

As we move into the Beta stage, we’ve taken a moment to reflect on our journey so far and we’ve all learnt some important lessons on the digital approach.  We were quite new to the way of working and the agile approach and more used to a more typical local authority project management style.  This is one where from the outset we have identified a solution with the expected costs and benefits and we work to deliver it.  Quite often, if something went wrong with a project or the solution didn’t seem to fit, the whole thing was shelved.  

We’ve been working in a completely different arena with this project.  We didn’t even know what the problem was when we started, let alone what the solution would be!  The whole process has been about exploring a number of problems from a customer perspective, and working out what possible ways there could be to solve these problems for the customer.  This means talking to the right people – the customers, those on the front line that support the customers – and following their journey and adding detail through understanding the process, system constraints, analysing the data etc. We’ve learnt to be open minded about the problems and the possible solutions and allow the evidence to lead the way to a conclusion.

Celebrate your mistakes!

We’ve learnt that it is more than okay to make mistakes.  Actually, we’ve celebrated mistakes because the learning from them has led to improvements either in our understanding of customer experience or the solutions we have developed.  We’ve had to iterate, get past barriers by asking ‘what if…?’ and be flexible.  But throughout, our focus has been on the goal of solving the customer problem.  In a strange way, this approach has led to reduced personal pressure to come up with the answers and make sure they’re implemented.  By trusting the process and involving the right people the project has led to solutions that have been co-designed by customers, customer care and social care staff. 

Collaboration works

We’ve learnt that it’s possible, and desirable, to collaborate with organisations from different geographical areas by working remotely.  Often, collaboration seems to be concerned with sharing contracts for services, sharing management, or sharing IT platforms, but this project has shown it is possible to collaborate on exploring issues and designing solutions.  We’ve learnt that there are common issues being experienced by our customers – there may be ways of working and differences in process with each organisation – but we’ve also found that the potential solutions can be the same – even if we need to slightly tailor how they are implemented for each organisation.  But what this means is that we can share the load when it comes to the resourcing of projects and solutions.  And crucially it is possible that solutions (especially digital ones) can be shared with other organisations experiencing a similar problems making it possible to reduce or share development and maintenance costs.

We’ve welcomed help and guidance

The support from the digital squad that CDPS has provided through Social Finance has been invaluable.  They’ve been leading the way by example.  Showing us that it’s good to explore questions and ideas and definitely not to ignore them.  They have subtly kept us on track and have shown us the tools that can be used to keep the projects running smoothly and engage everyone involved in the project.

Moving into Beta

As we move into Beta we’re feeling a little trepidation.  Its natural in a way to feel this way, something ‘real’ will be happening.  The solutions are no longer well tested prototypes but will be built to work in 3 local authorities.  Potentially, the solutions could be used for lots of different types of services and in a broad range of Welsh public sector organisations and make a significant contribution to improving the customer journeys of people in Wales.

Managing our anxieties

We do have some anxieties.  Many public service organisations use large externally provided IT systems and there is a question in our mind about how we can ensure access and integration with them.  COVID-19 has added some constraints on our colleagues in adult social care and customer care and as the second wave of the pandemic has spread, they have experienced increased workloads. Some staff have described it as relentless. It may be difficult to pick up the momentum again after the break between Alpha and Beta.  Understandably so.

Trusting the process

As project managers, we’re excited to see the ideas being developed into tangible solutions.  We can’t wait to learn more about how the Beta phase works and to explore this unknown territory.  We’re amazed at how much we’ve learnt so far over the course of the project – even the language is becoming second nature now 😊.  The important thing for us is to trust the process and make sure the customer remains at the heart of what we are trying to achieve.  The customer voice came through loud and clear during Discovery and Alpha – user centre design really what delivers better services.