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Talk more, queue less: faster updates for GOV.UK

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Best practice, How we work

We’re trying to make it quicker to update content on GOV.UK.

We’re doing this by talking to each other more when we write content, which is making our work better and cutting down the time our editing process takes.

Every time we publish new content on GOV.UK, it goes through what we call ‘2i’ - short for ‘second pair of eyes’. Someone else has to look at what you’ve done and you can’t hit the ‘publish’ button yourself. This is useful because when you spend time writing a piece of content it becomes harder to imagine yourself as a user reading it for the first time. 2i can spot things that don’t make sense or where you’ve simply made a mistake.

However, we ended up with far more people producing content than we had people trained to 2i it. They’d send content back with amends for content designers to make, who’d then put the content back in the queue again to be published. Changes could take a long time to go live.

Back in September, we published a blog about our plan to speed up this process. This is the update.

Man standing next to a 'Please queue here' sign.
Photo by Ian Livesey/CC BY 2.0

There’s now a series of chats

We’ve changed the way we work so that we review as we go.

In our new process, when you start working on a piece of content you ask another content designer to have a conversation with you about it. You talk through the approach you’re going to take and they point out any problems with your plan. Together you improve the plan, leaving you with a better plan.

Then you go away and put your plan into action and write some content.

When you’ve finished, you go back to the same content designer for a second conversation. You talk through your work and they point out any problems with the content you’ve written. Together you improve the content - leaving you with better content.

The doubly-improved content then goes for 2i so that someone who hasn’t been involved in the writing process can have a fresh look at it. But because the quality is now much higher, more content flies straight through 2i and is published first time round. When things do come back, amends are much smaller.

That makes the whole thing quicker.

What’s gone well

It’s been great to talk more. We need notes so that there’s an audit trail and so we can see if a long-departed content designer tried writing content in the same way before and found it didn’t work. But communicating using only notes can be a bit time-consuming. It can also be daunting to receive a long page of written feedback - especially for people who’ve only just started at GDS.

Our new emphasis on speaking has also started us doing collaborative work on content first thing in the morning. We’ve been having regular ‘content crits’ for 15 minutes at the start of the working day in which content designers can thrash out knotty problems and get help from their colleagues. Sometimes these can be challenging for the pre-caffeine brain but being able to tease out a problem in discussion with people who work on these things every day has been a real help in our work.

The most important thing we’re doing, though, is failing earlier. Sharing our work nearer the start of the content design process means we’re spotting that an approach won’t work at the earliest possible point, so we don’t waste time going down a dead-end.

How things could be even better

That said, it’s sometimes helpful to be able to sit by yourself and try things out. It’s harder to do that in the new process - it can make you feel like the first thing you need to do is come up with a plan of action to solve the whole problem, in the abstract. Like the lengthy written feedback, this can feel intimidating for recent starters.

It can also be frustrating if you’re working on something quite small. Explaining all the background to someone else can take much longer than just writing the content would, without a very different outcome.

With the new process, it can sometimes be difficult to manage your time if you have to wait for another content designer to be free before you start writing. Likewise, if your colleagues need to speak to you about their work before they can start it, it can be difficult to focus on the work you’re trying to do.

Iterate. Then iterate again.

We’re going to make it better. As the new process becomes embedded, we’re able to be more flexible with it. If you’re working on something simple, you can skip one of the chats, for example. Content designers are experimenting with having ‘opening hours’ for chats that people can book in advance, meaning it’s easier for everyone to plan their time.

The most common positive feedback, though, has been that it’s good to talk. We’re going to keep doing that as we carry on improving.

Ben is a content designer on GOV.UK.

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