Dear Reader – I blogged it


After 3 months with very little blogging, I thought I would put together a collection of three posts in the coming days to talk about what we have done, what we have learnt and what we are going to do.

To recap, I am Andy, the Digital Service Manager for the ONS website. Being a digital service manager in the civil service means taking total ownership of delivering something. In this case, the way the ONS presents and delivers its information online.

I was lucky enough to join the team just after a major re-launch of the underlying technology and a complete rework of the user experience. In a standing on the shoulders of giants style, this was an ideal time to join, as so much great work had been undertaken to give an essentially blank canvas for me to work with. However, as with all of these things, it has not been 100% plain sailing. Some of the inevitable technical debt incurred from launching a website needed to be repaid and so the team have been faced with continuing to deliver functionality to the audience whilst ensuring that we kept the platform as stable as possible.

I am broadly pleased with what we have achieved, whilst always wanting more. For me, some of the key things have been the way functionality has been delivered, as well as the how. The technical development of the ONS website was undertaken by a mix of internal staff and contractors. As we launched the site, the contract roles finished up and the internal staff took full responsibility for the site. It is a really fundamental challenge in working out how to transfer the institutional knowledge of a 2 year web project in a few weeks.  It may well be the topic of another blog another time, but it doesn’t matter how many diagrams you have and how well your code is structured and commented, it is hard to transfer the knowledge of why every choice was made and the context it was made in. Retrospectively, this transfer of knowledge took more time than I had envisaged, but is something I am much confident has happened now (though with Matt leaving at the end of the summer means we really will find out soon).

Alongside this, we chose to restructure the teams around my arrival as well. This means the technical , editorial, design and delivery functions of the service have all come together for the first time. A new org structure, with new staff and iterating the way we work is a lot of change in a short period of time, but I feel that it has benefited from us adopting an approach of just getting on with it, rather than protracted change over a longer period of time.

I have found a personal challenge in trying to define how much of my role should be focused on helping the team, facing the wider business and being the external ‘face’ of the project. I am not sure it is a percentage that can ever be defined, but I am pleased to have spoken at a number of external conferences/meet ups. Presented on the themes of digital change and agile delivery at internal events and hopefully given the team the cover they need to deliver. They certainly have kept on doing that. The recent updates to the way we process time series data, engaging with the issues of the EU referendum , iterating the way we deliver the statistical bulletin and continually improving the techniques we use to gain feedback from our users  certainly showcase this.

In my next blog post, I will be talking about the way we tackled the discovery and alpha phases of the next Big Thing we are working on. Spoiler. We learnt a lot