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What we delivered in the first 3 months of our new roadmap

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In July we wrote about our new way of working and what we’re learning from it. We also wanted to write a bit more about what we’d actually delivered too, so here it is:

2 week blitz

Our new roadmap kicked off in April with a 2 week blitz, which you can read about further in this account from Antonia Simmons. We scheduled this to achieve 2 things - practice at working in a fixed time/flexible scope basis, and to do things that would help with our operational efficiency. Examples here included setting up analytics tracking, group training to improve our ability to share out certain tasks, and making it quicker to deploy emergency fixes.

Roadmap mission delivery

We were really pleased with the volume of responsible delivery we had during our first 11 week mission. As you can see from our public roadmap, almost everything was delivered as scoped. This is a great result given it was a new way of working for a lot of people.

Most teams did have multiple efforts at scoping - and that’s ok. As teams progressed they realised they needed to rein in their ambitions a bit. It’s one of the biggest learnings we’re having from our new way of working.

There were 4 objectives that our teams were delivering to, so I’ll go through the mission work we delivered against each one.

Group and transform content

This objective is about meeting our transformation strategy commitment to group and transform all content on GOV.UK by 2020.

So we:

1. Began our engagement work in earnest

After our Director General, Kevin Cunnington, wrote to all permanent secretaries about this work to group and transform content, we:

  • created an engagement pipeline by crunching numbers and assessing each content theme against a number of criteria - that means we understood the ‘readiness’ of each department to begin content transformation
  • developed briefing materials for departments so they could understand more about the work and how they can prepare to get involved

2. Got underway with the transport content transformation theme

Transport is our second content theme after education. We created an inventory of all in-theme content, analysed it to create the draft transport taxonomy, identified user groups through workshops with the Department for Transport and its agencies, and coordinated with them to audit 75% of all content in the theme.

3. Prepared for the ‘coming to the UK’ content theme

Through our first 11 week mission phase we began engagement with the departments and agencies involved in content of this type. We began work on this in Q2, which we'll post about later.

4. Iterated our approach to taxonomy creation

We know that achieving all content transformations by 2020 is ambitious, so we’ve needed to look at ways to sensibly automate stages of the process.

This mission was about how we could create a taxonomy more quickly. We therefore used content within the environment theme to test ways of creating a taxonomy by collaborating with our colleagues in the Better Use of Data team. We made it quicker to generate terms by looking at a smaller number of pages, and built a prototype taxonomy creation tool. We also built tools to view tagging history over time, so we can monitor how it changes.

5. Iterated our navigation and orientation patterns


  • built and tested a new ‘most viewed’ navigation element
  • established thresholds for each level of navigation (that’s how many pages each section can contain before there’s a significant drop in findability)
  • tested a further level of navigation with subheads on long lists
  • measured that the new navigation is increasing the ability to find Whitehall content by up to 10 times
  • started using Gerry McGovern’s top tasks methodology across the Education theme
  • reduced technical complexity and dependencies between the taxonomy and navigation to allow them to be iterated separately

6. Developed tools for auditing and managing content

We built a tool to simplify and speed up the content audit process when creating a draft taxonomy. This removes our dependency on spreadsheets that go out of date quickly and require a lot of manual labour.

7. Transitioned legacy websites to GOV.UK

We completed phase 2 of the Public Health England transition to GOV.UK. Six websites were closed or archived. There are 140 open websites remaining, with total traffic of around 78 million visitors, that we believe are in scope to move to GOV.UK.

8. Completed a couple of discrete content improvement projects

We worked collaboratively with UK Visas and Immigration on family visas to restructure and reduce guidance, and clarify the evidence applicants have to submit.

This has doubled the success rate for people finding the service.

We also completed a discovery with Universal Credit, where we embedded our team into Jobcentres and Universal Credit service centres, lab research and content audits, to identify improvements needed for the whole user journey.

Improve the platform basics

This objective is about improving the core GOV.UK publishing platform.

So we:

1. Further consolidated our front-end architecture

We did this for all front-end formats, as well as testing a prototype for a long text template with users.

We also moved the start pages of licence finder and calculators, consolidating them into a consistent transaction start page format. That means it’s easier and quicker to maintain and iterate our front-end architecture now.

2. Overhauled the user journey for British and foreign nationals accessing UK government services abroad

We stripped back and reduced the prominence of the old ‘UK in country x’ pages, streamlined embassy pages and built a new user-centric service navigation in the new taxonomy.

3. Completed a discovery and alpha into deploying GOV.UK applications using modern containerised infrastructure

This is all part of doing the work so that it’s easier for GOV.UK developers to host, release, maintain and support their applications.

We also continued to engage with the future direction for operations and infrastructure across GDS, and we’ve moved to “badgerless deployments”, reducing the average number of hours to deploy changes to the live site.

4. Iterated our campaigns platform, and planned our blog platform work

We completed a penetration test and development sprint on campaigns to deliver things like:

  • reducing white space in the template and redesigned some sections
  • fixing rendering issues between the site’s backend and frontend
  • improving the user interface for preview and for some content sections
  • adding a social media option and stopping embedded videos from showing suggestions

For our blogs platform we prepared for a design and accessibility sprint in the second mission phase.

5. Started work to improve the Licensing service

As an outsourced project for GOV.UK, we kicked off a procurement process to find a third party to own parts of the Licensing support on GOV.UK, and for a third party to run a discovery process on the future state of the Licensing service.

6. Simplified Manuals publisher

We vastly simplified the Manuals publisher application, which allows government writers to upload manuals to GOV.UK, to follow the site’s coding patterns so that it can now be iterated upon more easily, and upgraded the application to supported versions of software.

Measurably improve common user journeys

This objective is about improving tasks on GOV.UK that affect a high percentage of users.

So we:

1. Made improvements to search

We put a measurement framework in place so that we can confidently make changes to search.

We also ran A/B tests to improve results for longer query terms, and on format weighting, resulting in marginal gains that will have a good impact across the 1.7 million searches a week on GOV.UK.

2. Improved tasks that we benchmark against

We made specific improvements to the tasks that we benchmark against every 6 months. From the tests we ran we estimate that between 14-15,000 additional users a week will successfully complete some of the most common tasks services on GOV.UK.

Help users hold government to account

This objective is about meeting our commitments to the Open Government Partnership and to transparency.

So we:

1. Looked into showing content history

We gained a better understanding of what users need from viewing past versions of content, how we could display this and what it will be possible to deliver next.

2. Undertook a discovery into the needs of users who scrutinise government

We conducted extensive research with other government departments, statutory bodies and non-statutory bodies.

In Q2 we implemented some improvements for these users, which we'll post about soon.

3. Supported government during the triggering of Article 50 and the last election, and provided wider Brexit support


  • supported DExEU, FCO and the Home Office with training, recruitment help and advice in the lead up to triggering Article 50
  • created an HTML publication for the White Paper and Great Repeal Bill
  • published a collections page for Article 50 related content
  • added an informative banner on GOV.UK about exiting the EU
  • built a dashboard for Brexit-related insights
  • coordinated content changes through the election and reshuffle

Supporting our teams and colleagues across government

To support all of the teams we have working to deliver the roadmap, our performance team have been busy developing a performance framework to see us through the year, as well as conducting a number of surveys to get feedback on GOV.UK, and from GOV.UK people too on our new way of working.

We also maintained our support targets through this period, with only a brief dip that we soon recovered from.

What next?

Once our 11 week missions ended, GOV.UK kicked off its first one week firebreak - the first of 3 during the 2017 to 18 roadmap. We’ll blog again about the work we delivered through this period, and all the work we undertook during our second mission phase, soon.

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