Twelve months ago I walked into the University of Bath for the first time as the head of the Digital team. It has been an epic year.
Since August 2013, we have set out to manage the University of Bath's digital communications in a completely different way to how it was done before.
We have stopped acting as a service provider doing one-off projects on an on-demand basis for 'clients'. And we reset ourselves to be a provider of digital products and services based on user needs, which are developed on a continuous and iterative basis.
Learning through doing
People who know the Government Digital Service and what they are doing with GOV.UK will recognise this approach. We've also learned a great deal from the examples set by other impressive digital enterprises, like Makeshift, Spotify and, a bit closer to home, FutureLearn.
What links these organisations, besides being digital, is their dogged fixation on delivery and the positively disruptive influence they've had on their industries.
The University of Bath Digital team wants to earn a reputation for creative problem-solving and delivery. As far as our business is concerned, we believe that our digital products and services can make us stand out in an increasingly competitive but largely homogeneous market.
Change all the things
Since our 'pivot' moment, we have been turning out a lot of work. We figure that we have deployed [code] to a production environment at least once every day since August 19th, when this new approach began.
But what’s important about the 12 months we've just had is not so much what we've produced, as how we produced it.
- We adopted and hold ourselves to a set of delivery principles
- We began applying and adapting Agile delivery methods
- We rearranged into multi-disciplinary delivery teams consisting of designers, developers and editors
- We organise our projects on the basis of one week timelines (called sprints), which are reviewed and scheduled every Monday
- We work off of backlogs for each of our products and services
- We started having regular meetings with users to get their feedback on our products and services
- We set up a triage process to assess new projects every Friday
- We have been posting regular sprint notes and delivery posts (like this one)
- We run show and tell sessions to demo our work every second Friday
- We run and record retrospectives at the end of every delivery.
As a result of these changes the performance of our site has improved, user engagement has increased, we have better relationships with our colleagues and we feel like a happy and productive team.
For me, the most impressive thing is that with only a few new souls brought on board, all this change has been brought about by the same team that was in place prior to August 2013. I could not have asked for more from the Digital team on what was a very ambitious ask. They have done themselves proud.
Now for something properly epic
How do you follow up on an epic year? Have an even more epic 12 months.
For the past year we've been establishing a new working culture and drilling ourselves in new methods of delivery. The next 12 months is going to see us put these new found delivery skills to radically transform the design and features of bath.ac.uk and the way it’s managed behind the scenes.
The projects we will undertake will:
1. Devolve publishing
Introducing structured content templates and workflow will encourage higher quality publishing by a wider pool of publishers and reduce the requirement for specialist training
2. Make tasks easier
Designing specialist pages and a browseable taxonomy will make it easier for people to use the service information, tools and transactions the University provides, reducing dependency on other channels and enhancing the utility of bath.ac.uk
3. Support engagement
Developing digital content and features that open up the University’s research impact, educational successes and campus community will draw in practitioners and the public and establish long term relationships.
Expect a visit
The finer detail of how and when this will happen is plotted out on a delivery roadmap that we have produced and will be taking round to campus colleagues in the weeks to come.
For the University to really make the most of digital, the delivery of digital must become more distributed across the organisation. That doesn't mean we'll do less centrally; it means that more digital work will be undertaken by more people across the University.
It's going to be a challenge no doubt, and that is what is inspiring us. We hope that it inspires you too.