On 1st July the Office of the Public Guardian launched the Beta version of the Lasting Power of Attorney application. The tool is one of the first of the Digital Exemplar services to reach Beta stage. As service manager for OPG's digital services, I thought it was a good time now that we've launched to write about some of the lessons we've learned on our journey. I hope that others working on these kinds of services can take advantage of the good stuff we've done and avoid some of the pitfalls.
Lasting power of attorney
A lasting power of attorney allows you to nominate a person, or people, to manage your affairs in case you lose mental capacity. We’ve built this digital tool as an alternative to the current paper-based application, which comes in the form of a thick pack of forms and guidance.
The first prototype was a standalone proof of concept. We then moved onto an Alpha version, which ran from November 2012 to March 2013, from which we gleaned loads of great user feedback which allowed us to refine and improve the tool. For Beta we've also made other improvements, such as building the tool on an open Application Programming Interface (API), adding online payment and turning it into a full-scale production service.
What I've learned on the way
1) It's all about the people
If I have one message from my experience over the last 8 months it is that to build this kind of new product you need the right team in place – that is to say, a wide and multi-skilled group of people, with clearly defined roles and with equal passion for what they're doing. We're privileged to have a brilliant product owner in the OPG, Simon Manby, who has driven the vision of this product. We've also been fortunate to have loads of support from GDS, who have helped us with everything from profiling our users, to giving architectural advice, to helping us deliver the tool. Following on from their development work on the beta, MoJ's Digital Services Division are supporting the tool and ensuring the service is constantly improved and remains secure and accessible.
This has been a great bit of cross-Government team work, without which this tool simply could not have worked.
2) Do it the right way...
….which, for me, is Agile, using Scrum methodology, and co-located as much as humanly possible. We in the OPG were lucky to have people around to coach us in using Agile as a basis for developing the tool, and we will be repeating this way of working across our developing transformation programme. Done right, working this way means you can achieve almost anything you put your collective mind to.
3) Challenge 'how it has always been done'
To get the service built in the best way for our users has meant challenging almost every assumption about how you build technology in Government – from procurement, to hosting, building requirements, running a project, governance, how you support a service....the list goes on. Although getting the tool launched has meant a multitude of headaches, some of which at times seemed insurmountable, I can honestly say it has been worth every 'healthy debate' we've had to get this done.
4) Read the manual
We wanted this product to be a real exemplar, and I'm pleased to be able to say that we've met the Digital by Default Standard. The standard is still in development but it, and its accompanying guidance in the Government Service Design Manual, has been of huge help to us – I'd encourage anyone developing a new digital service to read it.
If anyone would like to discuss our experience on this, I'd be happy to talk.