This is a second post in the series on how we followed Government Digital Services (GDS) Service Design Phases for the rebuild of The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise service.
You can learn more about the background of the project, Discovery and Alpha phases in the first blog post.
In this post, we will focus on the Beta phase of the project, explaining how our iterative, agile process not only enabled us to launch on time, but also helped us to successfully pass Beta assessment.
Beta: simultaneous testing and development
For some projects, the Beta phase is the first time working software is released. But as we’d already produced a fully functioning software in the Alpha phase, we used the Beta to continue iterating upon it. We transitioned from the Alpha’s one-week sprints to two-week cycles.
Our aim was to be as efficient as we could, making the most of the time we had, so whilst the UX team were testing and gathering feedback on one part of the service – say, the application forms – the development team would be building features from the administrative back-end of the system, ready to be tested next.
Our UX team ran continuous user testing sessions throughout the Beta phase with past QAE applicants, with QAE’s assessors and administrators and also with people who are at a low level on the digital scale. This meant that every part of the service was validated by real users before it could be released to the public.
“Every part of the service was validated by real users”
During the later stages of the Beta phase, the completed public-facing part of the application was launched as a Beta on GOV.UK – and began accepting applications. At the same time, we continued building features that would be used by administrators and assessors later on in the award cycle, such as the ability to send mass emails to applicants notifying them of the status of their application.
Although we’d been following rigorous delivery management processes and quality assurance from the very beginning of the Alpha, it’s at the Beta stage where security becomes a vital issue for Government services. So we met with GDS to discuss the application’s security and our technical team put the application through a series of tests to make sure that it met all of the Government’s data security standards.
The Beta was probably the most visible of all of our phases for the QAE team, as they played a very active role in watching the application progress, testing it regularly on staging servers, and ultimately helping to meet their users’ needs.
Beta: Passing the service assessment
At the end of the Beta phase, we got together to help the QAE Service Manager with the service’s Beta assessment, collating important project documentation and helping to answer technical questions at the assessment itself. Unlike the Alpha assessment, the Beta assessment was compulsory, and a failure would mean we would have to delay the launch of the application. QAE project not only passed first time, but was used as exemplar within the Department of Business and Innovation.
Beta: Feedback gathering and continuous improvements
During the Beta phase, the application went live on GOV.UK – where it was exposed to sustained use from normal users. We worked closely with the QAE team to continue collecting user feedback and making improvements to the software.
We gathered feedback in two ways: firstly, by having users fill out an online survey giving feedback on the software, and secondly, by logging calls for customer support to look for key areas that the award applicants were repeatedly struggling with.
For example, by looking at the customer support requests, we found that users who had forgotten their passwords were having difficulties recovering them and often ended up having to call the QAE team for help. We adjusted that user flow, and as a result noticed a drop in the number of customer support calls.
Whilst making these tweaks and minor improvements to the design of the service, our development team were also ironing out bugs from the system and providing technical support in the event of any problems with the service.
Ongoing support and development
Our new Queen’s Awards for Enterprise service fulfils all of the Government’s security and performance standards, meets its users’ needs, and is currently half-way through a successful 2015 award cycle.
Our technical support team monitors the application’s performance, and is constantly working to maintain its security and optimise its code.
We’re still collecting feedback on the service, learning how we can better meet user needs, and improving the software wherever we can. We continue to see the QAE Service Manager regularly to ensure the application’s ongoing success.
We’re looking forward to working with the QAE team to take the project into the Live Phase in the near future.
Please read A Walk Through the GDS Service Design Phases: Discovery and Alpha for The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise to learn more about the background and the initial phases of the project.
Do you need help creating or improving a digital service? Contact Matthew, our Technical Director, today on +44 207 125 0160 or drop him a line on [email protected] for a free consultation.