Most digital services created for GOV.UK have to go through at least one Digital By Default service assessment – the evaluation process designed by Government Digital Services (GDS) to make sure that every part of GOV.UK – no matter who created it – meets the key standards outlined in the Digital By Default Service Standard.
The results of this assessment directly impact the success of the project, because services that don’t pass their Digital by Default Beta assessment are forced to take remedial action and go through the assessment again before they can go public (assuming they pass second time around).
As part of our rebuild of The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise (QAE) web application earlier this year, we underwent two Digital by Default assessments – one at the end of the Alpha phase, and one after the Beta phase – both of which we passed first time.
Although it’s the service manager’s role to make sure that the Digital By Default Service Standard is met, we spent time helping the QAE team to prepare as the pass criteria can be highly technical.
We were able to apply our past experience presenting HMRC’s Trade Tariff tool to a GDS approvals board before the Service Standard was published. As a result of this preparation, our Beta assessment for QAE is now used as an exemplar in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
GDS-approved processes and good documentation
The Digital By Default Service Assessment is designed to make sure that both the development process and the end product meet GDS standards, so the easiest way to ensure that a project passes is to do your best to keep to those standards from day one.
For the QAE project, this meant beginning with a rigorous focus on user needs, doing thorough user testing, and establishing short feedback loops using agile methodologies to make sure our work was of a high quality.
Throughout the entire project we were also constantly referring back to the GDS Service Design Manual to make sure that we followed it as closely as we could.
Keeping good project documentation also paid off massively when we were preparing for the assessment, as we were able refer to user testing reports and other data that backed up all the decisions we made.
This meant that when it came down to assessment we could not only present our decisions, but justify them to the panel with hard evidence.
Digital by Default: a help not a hindrance
It’s important to spend a good amount of time in preparation for a Digital By Default Assessment, but to treat it as a useful way of controlling quality, rather than as a stressful examination. After all, the numerous Government guidelines and Digital by Default standards on GOV.UK are just GDS’s way of helping Service Managers and digital teams produce high quality digital services.
By following industry best practices, paying close attention to the guidance Government Digital Services provides on GOV.UK, being thorough with our documentation, and relying on plenty of past experience with Government projects, we were able to help the QAE Service Manager pass all the project’s assessments.
You can read more about this project in the posts below: