Once upon a time … on an Agile service team
Stories are not just for bedtime, discovered Owen Burgess on a Sport Wales grants project – they’re essential for meeting real users’ needs
13 April 2022
‘’Once upon a time’’ is often how the bedtime stories I read to my daughter start. I used to think of stories mainly in that light – as a rewarding way of spending time with my child. Only recently have I realised how fundamental stories also are to my work as a service design lead for Sport Wales.
I’m part of a team at Sport Wales that’s been working with the Centre for Digital Public Services (CDPS) on a project to increase the reach and impact of Sport Wales grants. Central to the project has been talking to current and potential grant users to get a better understanding of their funding needs as, for example, local sporting clubs and organisations.
Playing the person-centred way
The purpose of Sport Wales is to give everyone in the country the chance to be active through sport. To achieve that, we realise as an organisation that we must be person-centred – to let the needs and motivations of our users, such as grant recipients, lead our activity. Achieving such a goal in practice is less straightforward, which is why it has been so useful working with an organisation, such as CDPS, that has user-centred design at its heart.
It’s been refreshing to hear first-hand from people seeking funding for their sporting activities. There’s no substitute for understanding what matters to real users. This way of doing research has produced some ‘lightbulb’ moments and showed that research is equally valuable for upending your hypotheses as for confirming them.
Grass stains on your creps
For example, one group of teenage boys told us their biggest challenge was just finding somewhere to play football. Knowing the area, I suggested two parks nearby. The boys responded that they could not play on grass as it was all about having “box-fresh trainers”:
“We can’t be playing on grass, as we’ll get grass stains on our creps [training shoes]”
I asked a basketball coach working with a local group why he had not applied for funding. He replied that he looked at the Sport Wales website and saw “a Welsh Government logo and the application process and thought: ‘Nah, that ain’t for me – I don’t have a degree.'”
Gathering stories from users to understand their needs is just one thing I’ve learned to do by working with a CDPS digital squad over the past six months. Simplifying complex things has been another. For example, we mapped the old application process on the digital whiteboard tool Mural. Doing so revealed how complicated an application had become and the vast amount of information we were asking for from grant applicants. Visualising the process helped us to strip it right back to the ‘must-do’ level.
Working in a user-centred way will, we expect, result in a wider pool of people applying for Sport Wales grants. However, it has already transformed a futuristic concept like ‘service design’ into new ways of working for the team and organisation.
For example, we’re:
- considering the people we serve as ‘users’ and getting into the mindset of viewing our offering as services rather than ‘things’ – a simple change in language that totally alters perspective
- increasingly working in Agile teams – that is, small, autonomous, multidisciplinary groups that advance in small steps, testing and modifying as they go
- seeking feedback from users in quick and simple ways, like over a phone or video call, letting us build user research into more of our daily work
- spending more time answering ‘What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?’ by exploring and testing – rather than jumping quickly into ‘solution mode’
- because of all the above, being far more comfortable with sharing concepts and ideas early and then continually improving – rather than feeling as though we need an all singing all dancing finished product to show at project end
We’re early on in our own user-centred story at Sport Wales but I’m thoroughly excited about the chapters we’ve written so far.
Owen Burgess is service design and development lead at Sport Wales
Tell us about your experience of grant services in the comments below. And if you’re a sporting body that would like to get involved in Sport Wales service development, drop us an email.