Design thinking, leadership and transformation

Have you been onto any UK Government websites recently?  Registering to vote or taxing a car or something like that?

I registered to vote in April.  I went to a website, clicked a few links, typed a couple of things and that was it – I was astonished that it could be so simple.  I thought it must be some kind of aberration that a government service could be so simple.  But, I didn’t think too much more about it.

Then last week I had the great good fortune to hear Ben Terret, Design Director of GDS (Government Digital Service), give a talk.

GDS, part of the Cabinet Office, is transforming the way government is done through a combination of design and boldness.  It is utterly remarkable and incredibly instructive about what success will look like in the fully digital world we are creating.  That a government department is leading the way eradicates any possible excuse of bureaucracy.

Before I explain more about GDS, just a word on how things got complicated in the first place.

In a pre digital world information is hard to come by and hard to copy reliably.  It is therefore easy to wield information as a weapon.  In our pre-digital society 1.0, since the beginning of civilisation people have created multiple ways of using information to confer power on themselves.   Examples might include the way that Lawyers and other professionals create their own language or a business division controls processes to create a need for which they can control the fulfilment.

A consequence of this is what we often call organisational “Silos”, separate vertical power bases within a single system.  Power bases that do not reach out collaboratively across the organisation but seek to hold information and control vertically within their own system.  Inevitably this leads to a confusing maze of competing systems which fulfil similar roles, but offer different experiences.

Digital, by which I mean software based systems as opposed to physically based systems, changes the paradigm on information.  Information is no longer scarce or hard to copy reliably.  Information is abundant and easily duplicated.  However this does not, on it’s own change the behaviour of those holding power through information scarcity on it’s own.  This is where GDS come in.

For a change to occur in a human system there needs to be an agent of change (this is why my title at Holos is Agent).  An agent could be an individual, a team, an external organisation or a thing, what that agent of change does is to demonstrate a different way of doing things that is so compelling and inspiring that change becomes inevitable.

You can read more about GDS, their Seven Design Principles and their way of thinking on their website.  The bit that I want to pull out, is the bit that I think is the most transformational, and that is their strategy.

The strategy is to deliver.

That’s it.

Using Agile methodology GDS focus on user needs to develop a minimum viable product, deliver and iterate.

They don’t discuss to much with senior people or spend ages in meetings trying to persuade people.  They deliver a prototype.  They get real user feedback and iterate.

They deliver so fast and so frequently and iterate so quickly that critics don’t have time to get in the way.

To do this they have built a great team who trust each other and are fully engaged with the cause.

The GDS playbook for transforming government is:

1 – build a trusting and engaged team
2 – Deliver Alpha, Beta and launch, keep iterating based on real user feedback.
3 – Keep it simple and communicate

If it can work for government, it can work for any organisation.

Holos believes that “Change is Easy” or at least it can be when it is done well. Holos has the resources and the skill to help organisations of any size to flourish in the future.

Please share your ideas, comment and discuss here – click on the blog title and scroll to the bottom to find the comment box.

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With love


Neil Crofts
authentic business


About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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