4 weeks back at DVSA: workflows, IT and culture

It’s 4 weeks since I’ve been back at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) after 6 months away working at the Government Digital Service (GDS). So what have I been up to?

The answer is putting everything I learned in those 6 months to good use. It comes down to 3 main areas:

  • improving our workflow
  • improving our IT
  • changing our culture

Improving our workflow

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

The first thing I did was start to replicate the workflow I’d been using at GDS.

We use Trello in the DVSA Content Design team to manage our workflow. We had a single board that covered both our work in progress and our icebox . It was big. There were around 180 cards.

We’ve now split it into 2 boards:

  • work in progress
  • triage

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

Our work in progress board

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

Some useful Trello plugins to help are Kanban WIP, CardCounter and Card Color Titles.

The triage board is our icebox. We’ve split it into columns that cover the broad areas of DVSA’s work. 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.

Our triage board

After doing some housekeeping on both boards, we managed to get rid of around 80 cards, leaving us with around 100 things to get to. There’s still more to do to prioritise these.

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

Which brings me to Corrello.

Measuring all the things

I’m using Corrello to help me 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 column and so on.

The idea is that I’ll be able to spot our bottlenecks and then 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

Improving our IT

Like lots of other content teams around government, our IT isn’t fantastic as things stand. My team is also split using 2 legacy systems, and based across 4 locations. It’s not ideal.

It means that half the team can’t use Google Chrome to be able to take full advantage of Trello plugins, or do a Google Hangout. The kind of things that are vital when you’re not physically together.

It also slows us down doing our jobs. So we’re fixing it.

I’ve put together a business case around the needs of the team to be able to do content design. As a result, we’ve got approval for each of our content designers to have a MacBook Air. They should be with us soon.

It’ll help us to work better than before.

Changing our culture

The final thing I’ve been trying to do is make a start on changing the culture.

From minor things (like putting up the ‘It’s ok’ poster) to more significant things (like holding fortnightly retros).

Bored of boards

Another thing I learned at GDS was about how important the physical space we work in is.

In our Nottingham office (where I’m based), we have boards separating our desks. It makes it hard to have a conversation across desks, and for ideas to flow freely.

When I got back, I asked people if they liked those boards. Just about everyone said no — some answers included ‘hating them’.

I found it fascinating that a thing that obviously bothers people had never been mentioned before. Maybe they just accepted it was a thing they had, and therefore couldn’t challenge?

After speaking to the team, and then to our Facilities team, we’ve agreed to remove them. It’s not been done yet, but I’ll write about it when it’s done, and what difference it’s made.