This is the first of two blog posts about how we approach moving through alpha and beta. This post looks at what’s involved in the alpha phase and how to get to the point of launching a successful beta service.
Testing solutions to what we learned in discovery
We might start with some initial hypotheses, or user stories, as a basis for some prototypes or ideas to test with users. We combine semi-structured interviewing with usability tests to help us quickly eliminate ideas that don’t work well, and develop those which do.
During our Teaching Vacancies alpha, for example, we created prototypes that explored different user needs, such as advanced location search, search filters, school admin dashboards, attaching documents, viewing additional school information, and application forms.
We repeated the cycle of designing, testing, evaluating and iterating throughout the alpha phase. As it took shape, we also explored and tested technical implementation options to make sure our prototype ideas could be reproduced as working software at beta.
Looking at the whole service from end to end
Taken together, these aspects of alpha help us look at the whole service from end to end from the perspective of end users, the people who will operate and support the service, and the people who will build the service.
This helps us identify gaps in our knowledge that we need to explore in alpha or test further in beta, and to anticipate potential risks and problems and think about how to solve them.
Working to the Digital Service Standard
Throughout alpha, we base our ways of working on the Digital Service Standard. This helps us deliver a service that’s focused on user needs, and accounts for things like technology options, flexibility, future scaling and extension. The final step in the alpha phase is an assessment against this standard.
The Service Standard Assessment is a really good chance to consolidate everything the team’s learned and frame thinking for the next phase. It also helps to have an experienced panel ask insightful questions about the team’s approach, and make suggestions for things they could look at next and existing work that could be reused from other government services doing similar things or tackling related problems.
At the end of Teaching Vacancies alpha, we did some storymapping. Storymapping helped us to string together the end to end journeys for each group of users, and understand the particular user stories that made up each of those journeys.
The next stage was to take what we’d learned during alpha into a usable public beta product. Watch out for a blog post on that next week.