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Digital Leaders

Why principles matter

Written by Sally Meecham, Head of Digital at Defra

Like many other government departments, Defra’s services, systems and operations have developed over time, often in response to specific policy initiatives. Our services have also sometimes been split across Defra group’s internal structures in ways that can be confusing to our customers.

Poor service design serves no one; it’s costly for the business and frustrating for the user.

At Defra we’re prioritising a digital approach to help us simplify our customer’s interactions with us and take out unnecessary business complexity. While we have an operational strategy — the Defra group Target Operating Model — to help us get there, it’s a complex process of change with a multitude of moving pieces.

Managing change in this context is hard work. We do not have the privilege of a blank canvas; we have to transition teams, programmes, and ways of working, while ensuring day-to-day business and operations are maintained to meet our policy needs. Given the inevitable ambiguity and flux, we’ve focused on building a common vocabulary to hold ourselves accountable at a high-level.

The Defra digital delivery principles reflect a working vision of what a digital mindset considers. From a practical standpoint, the principles provide a quick and easy checklist by which to inform and measure decisions at all levels.

These principles are:

Understanding our customers’ needs, and involving the customer all the way through delivery

  1. Following Government Digital Service agile delivery practice

Working in an iterative way using tools and techniques to support distributed working.

  1. Working in multi-disciplined teams led by the business

With empowered teams of suitably skilled business and IT professionals.

Thinking and working collaboratively to implement and re-use common solutions where possible.

  1. Following our architectural vision and principles

Using low cost cloud based services, common components and approaches.

  1. Work towards delivery of clear business benefits

Taking a shared commitment to secure business outcomes that will deliver our strategic review commitments.

We are what we measure.

If that age old adage has merit, the Defra digital delivery principles have an important role to play in setting ourselves on the right digital trajectory.

This post first appeared on the Defra Digital Blog here.

Originally published at on January 26, 2017.




Thoughts on leadership, strategy and digital transformation across all sectors. Articles first published on the Digital Leaders blog at

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