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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Principles for digital teams

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Agile, Development, Digital skills

Collaborating across our digital community at the MoJ, we’ve developed a set of principles for our teams. The use of principles in digital is common, such as the Government Design Principles, and principles captured in standards such as the Government Service Standard

We felt that one area where the principles were missing was for the teams themselves: showing what a good team looks like. And importantly, they are also for people outside teams: stakeholders, managers, peers, showing what a team might come to expect from them to succeed.

We think that these principles should be seen as aspirational, and never used as a standard to assess teams. It’s impossible to create the perfect team, and the perfect set of conditions to do digital work, so they should be used to guide teams and organisations towards better ways of working.

We’ve been iterating these principles using feedback from our teams for a few months, and now we’d like to share them and see what others think. We don’t consider them finished, and we’ll keep adapting them as they’re used in practice.

Our principles

For team members, and for those who work with teams

  1. Have a user-centered mission

The team should have a mission that is clear, inspiring, achievable, user-centered and aligns with the wider strategic goals of the function, agency, department, or government.

The team should not define themselves by a product, project or programme and should not define themselves by a phase, such as Discovery.

  1. Create, own and sustain great services

Whilst the Government Service Standard applies principally to public services, the standard should be the place for teams to start when defining how to deliver all products. 

By default, teams should own the products they create, and be accountable for the ongoing quality and reliability of their products. 

  1. Contribute to wider goals

Team members should have the flexibility and time to work on problems or opportunities which aren’t directly part of the team’s mission.

These could be to achieve the goals of professions, communities, or the wider organisation.

  1. Be long-lived, but give people the freedom to move

Teams have stable membership to allow them to build effectiveness over time and to achieve longer-term missions. 

However, give team members opportunities to move between teams to broaden experience, and provide more variety in the work they do. 

  1. Have the skills you need

Teams are formed from the range of professions and experience needed to achieve the mission and sustain services. 

Teams should be able to comfortably handle absence, illness, and other external pressures on people’s time, and still, generally, have access to the skills needed. 

  1. Have capacity and demand in balance

Teams should seek to have the capacity to deliver their mission and should feel they can say “no” if they simply can’t achieve what is asked of them.

If demand is low, the team must try to help others to understand the value of the mission. However, the team must also be open to understanding why the mission is less valued by others.

  1. Measure outcomes, then iterate

Be clear on how you understand the value, and how outcomes can be achieved. Measure your progress, and use this to guide how you iterate towards your goal. 

Prioritise the next most valuable thing to deliver, keeping a balance between delivering value in the short-term vs. long-term.

  1. Have agility

The team needs the ability to rapidly change what it does and how it works if the information it has changes. The agile manifesto and agile principles show how to get better information sooner and create a team with the ability to change.

Teams should create their ways of working to best achieve their goals, embrace challenges and address dysfunctions that emerge.

  1. Value continuous learning and development

Support team members to learn and progress, ensuring delivery pressure does not inhibit your ability to do this. Have explicit practices to support less experienced team members to grow and develop.

  1. Look sideways

Teams should engage with other teams and communities regularly to ensure they don’t overlap, leave gaps, or unbalance the priorities of the organisation. 

  1. Know your collaborators and supporters 

Know, and build relationships with, the group of collaborators and supporters who will ensure the team mission is achieved.

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