Test, refine and build: what happens during the ‘Beta’ product development phase

Over the past few months, we’ve been sharing our progress working together with Neath Port Talbot, Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen to explore a shared challenge around the front door of Adult Social Care.  

The journey so far 

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Through Autumn 2020, our initial Discovery phase combined User Research with local residents, Business Analysis to understand Local Authority contexts, and Technical Scoping to map existing systems and understand what could be possible. Drawing together the findings from these three areas, we narrowed our focus to prioritise exploring how we could help users track the progress of requests they make to Adult Social Care.  

During the following Alpha phase, we tested and iterated potential solution designs to create a series of text message updates and a linked website that give easy access to status updates on requests to Adult Social Care, creating our prototype ‘Track My Request’ solution. These designs were continuously tested against the needs we heard from our Discovery: to improve users’ experience of the request process, and to reduce additional demand on contact workers who were regularly being asked to provide status updates and clarify the request process.  

Moving to Beta 

Moving to the next stage, the Beta phase is where we begin to build and embed the solution into day-to-day working. Whilst we’ve already tested the prototype with users during the previous phase, there are some questions we can only fully answer by putting the solution to the test in this way.  

This is where we make choices about what coding languages to use and how we’ll translate what we’ve learnt from our technical scoping into a functioning solution. Making these choices has implications for how we keep the solution running, for example what skillsets are required for ongoing maintenance, alongside any potential impact on the user experience of the solution. It’s therefore important we factor in a range of considerations when making these choices at the outset of the Beta phase. 

Among these, one of the critical questions we’ve kept front and centre is ‘how do we make sure this solution is sustainable?’ We know that services aren’t static. Processes shift and change over time. As do user needs. And no matter how carefully we’ve designed our solution, sometimes things need updating or fixing. So it’s critical that we plan ahead for these eventualities. 

It can be all too easy to leave the question of sustainability to the end of a project, but we know that this doesn’t work in product development. We need to embed these considerations early on to make sure we’re continually making choices that enable sustainability. This includes our technical choices, but also our process for engaging the right stakeholders in understanding and co-developing what sustainability means for the solution. This is critical to avoid unanticipated blockers such as funding or governance approvals, and ensure we can keep up momentum as we progress through the different phases of development. 

In our next post we’ll be sharing more about the process to design for sustainability and how we make choices that support sustainability and long-term impact. 

Rosanna Hardwick (rosanna.hardwick@digitalpublicservice.gov.wales)