MoJ updates ‘painful’ service standard assessment process

The Ministry of Justice has set out plans to continuously review internal products, in an effort “revolutionise” service standard assessment.

Service standard assessments could be a more agile process to help services pass more quickly, says MoJ – Photo credit: Flick, Oliver Tacke

Government departments are required to assess their products and services using the Service Standard – set by the Government Digital Service – to ensure that they are high quality and meet user needs.

The Ministry of Justice has previously done this through a four-hour assessment panel at the end of each delivery phase: alpha, beta and live.

However, Emily Hall-Strutt, delivery manager and product manager for service standard assessments for internal products, said that the process “wasn’t working”, describing it as “pretty painful”.

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In a blogpost published yesterday, she said that there were three main pain points: inconsistent panel decisions, that the process doesn’t fit in with agile working and that it disrupts delivery.

“Service teams were stopping delivery for up to a fortnight to prepare for what felt like an exam,” she said, adding that this often involved “last-minute cramming”, which caused the team a lot of stress.

In addition, Hall-Strutt said that she felt the model “didn’t give panellists much insight into the team’s ways of working, and that a lot of the context of the service was often lost of misunderstood”.

The MoJ is now trying what it describes as “continuous service review”, and Hall-Strutt said that it is the first department to make such significant changes to the process.

This involves a product or delivery manager from another service team acting as a peer reviewer, who will sit in on sprint reviews and challenging teams when they don’t feel the product is meeting the service standard.

Then – instead of booking an assessment in advance and disrupting delivery to prepare for it – the team and the peer reviewer will agree when the service is ready to move into the next phase.

Hall-Strutt said that at this point there will be a short service review session of one to two hours, with people from different specialist areas and at least one person who hasn’t been involved so far, to discuss the next phase of design and delivery.

The new process has been used twice to move services into alpha stage, Hall-Strutt said, adding that neither had delivery disrupted – “an immediate win”.

In addition, a delivery manager involved said that the experience had “felt more like a conversation than an interrogation”.

However, although it saves the service teams’ time, Hall-Strutt said it coul be “quite burdensome for the peer reviewer – particularly when working with a less experienced team who require more support”.

To tackle this, teams will be able to spend more time with their peer reviewer – this may involve the reviewer having to spend more time away from their own team, but the hope is that that team will benefit from their own peer reviewer.  

The MoJ is now working on using the process for eight services across the digital and technology unit and the department’s agencies using the approach, with Hall-Strutt saying the aim is to roll it out more widely soon.

She added that it was working with GDS on its own discovery work around the service standard, to “hopefully come to an agreement on a new approach”.


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