Flying the flag for agile development

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is responsible for the UK ship register. You might know it if you have a yacht or a dingy. The register isn’t just for boats in the UK though.

Large commercial vessels that sail around the world still have a home country for whom they “fly the flag”- and they have a choice of which country they pick. Picking the right country is a strategic choice for boat owners, particularly large commercial ones.

There are several reasons someone might pick the UK as a place to register their boat

The UK seeks to “increase the tonnage” (that’s the weight of all the boats flying the flag) by getting more boat owners, both personal and commercial, to register their boat in the UK. This generates revenue and also keeps the UK as a prominent voice in worldwide maritime matters.

One way to help people register their ship is to create an online service, and that is where we can help.

Forming a partnership with dxw

MCA already had a strong start to creating an online service and had been working on the backend prior to contacting dxw. However, to unlock the next round of government funding, they would need to demonstrate that they can work in a more agile and user-centred way. Those are some of dxw’s favourite things, so we were happy to help them figure out how to do it.

They weren’t ready to start a full discovery stage just yet and really wanted to get a better understanding of what they were doing well and what steps they would need to take to create the service they envisioned. One way to do this was to run a “pre-discovery.”

A pre-discovery, sometimes called Sprint 0 or inception, is the time before the development work starts where the focus is on clarifying and understanding previous work, context and constraints. We structured this as five workshops to help MCA identify their areas of strength and weaknesses and then plan specific next steps to make the best use of the time, people and resources available for the next development phase.


The five workshops we facilitated as part of the pre-discovery were:

1. stakeholder interviews
We interviewed stakeholders from around the organisation to understand their hopes and concerns for the project, as well as how they saw their role and what they
might do to help (such as provide guidance or technical support).

2. capability
This workshop was to determine what skills, technology resources and people MCA already had and what else they would need to enable the kind of service development they are planning.

3. user needs
We spent time with the service owner to identify who the users of the service would be and
how they would come to and work through the service. Together we came up with the high-level user needs and helped the team map these to the overarching service.

4. governance
We worked with the stakeholders to understand how best to manage the project. This was
a chance to demonstrate how agile works. We also worked to understand their existing governance processes so that we could make suggestions that would be practical and workable for them.

5. roadmapping
Finally, we mapped out where the project should go next to meet user needs. We helped prioritise features and gave the organisation a plan they could take to stakeholders and the future delivery team to get started.

What happens next

MCA will now use dxw’s findings to build the business case for change.

Starting a digital transformation is hard, and the first step is always the hardest. The change required is no longer about changing the IT or buying a new system, it is about changing the way an organisation delivers their services to their customers.

If you are an organisation like MCA that is kickstarting your digital transformation and would like some help on where to start, we’d love to help. Please get in touch.