Improving our content workflow

By John Ploughman (Content Design Manager)

At the start of June, I returned to DVSA after 6 months working in the GOV.UK Content team at the Government Digital Service (GDS).

One of the (many) things I loved about working at GDS was the structure to the workflows. Everyone knew them, and it made it easier to work.

When I came back to DVSA, the first thing I did was start to replicate that workflow. I thought it’d be useful to share this more widely.

How we manage our work

We use Trello in the DVSA Content Design team to manage our workflow.

We used to have a single board that covered both our work in progress and our icebox. It was big — too big. There were around 180 cards on it.

We’ve now split it into 2 boards:

  • work in progress
  • triage

Managing our work in progress

The work in progress board covers what we’ve got in play at the moment and our immediate priorities.

Our work in progress board

The columns on the board are:

  • Prioritised and ready
  • Doing
  • With GDS
  • Blocked
  • 2i (things having a second pair of eyes check)
  • 2i amends (things that need changing after a 2i check)
  • Out for fact check (with a subject matter expert)
  • Fact check amends (a factual change following a check)
  • Awaiting scheduled publication
  • Done

We’re based across 4 sites, so we have a call each day to talk through what’s on the board. It’s at 10:20am and for around 10 minutes.

Do less at once

I’ve introduced work in progress (WIP) limits on what we’re doing. We’re learning that by doing less at once, we’re getting more done. More on that in a moment.

You can install some really useful Google Chrome extensions to get more out of Trello when you have WIP limits in place. We’re using Kanban WIP and CardCounter. Card Color Titles is another extension worth getting to make it easier to read your card labels.

Managing our icebox

The triage board is our icebox. We’ve split it into columns that cover the broad areas of DVSA’s work, with another column for new requests.

Our triage board

New requests are made through a form on our intranet (using Gravity Forms). A Trello card is then manually created on the triage board by a member of the team, and I then decide how it should be prioritised.

We’re going to connect Gravity Forms to Trello (using Zapier), so new requests are sent to Trello automatically. It’s just one less manual thing we need to do.

The cards are ordered in each column according to priority. When it gets to the top of the list, it’s moved over to the work in progress board.

Backlog grooming

I try to look at the triage board in depth at least once a week to identify anything that’s no longer needed so we can get rid of it. I’m trying to be ruthless at that — and probably need to be more ruthless still.

We also use Trello labels to make sure it’s easy to filter out certain types of cards, and report on things.

Measuring all the things

We use Corrello to help manage the work of the team.

It integrates with Trello to give really useful information, like how much work is in progress, how long cards are spending in each part of the workflow and so on.

The idea is that I’ll be able to spot our bottlenecks and then, with the team, iterate the process to improve it.

One feature of Corrello is a cumulative flow diagram, showing how much work you’ve got in each state

Getting to know Kanban

Our workflow uses Kanban.

While I was working at GDS, Jess and Paul (2 of the brilliant delivery managers) ran a workshop to help us understand the principles of Kanban.
It was a lot of fun and very memorable. I thought the team at DVSA would benefit from it — so we’ve done it.

Take a look at this guide to running the Kanban pizza game if you’re serious about using Kanban and want to help your team to learn about it.

Since running it with the team, we’ve seen a noticeable increase in the amount of stuff getting done.

Show the thing

If you work in a content team in government, we’d be more than happy to show you how we’re working. Come and visit us.

There are members of the team in Bristol, Nottingham and Swansea who’d be happy to show you this and more. Email gov.uk.publishing@dvsa.gov.uk if you’d like to arrange a visit.