Introducing multidisciplinary teams at the Croydon Digital Service

We adopted a new way of working and had to make it fit to a local authority setting - here's what we learned.

Since April, our teams have been getting to grips with a new culture and ways of working. These will support our ambitious Digital Strategy, developed in the open and with feedback from lots of you. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve learned so far about one particular change: multidisciplinary teams.

Setting up a new way of working

Our Chief Digital Officer Neil saw the benefits of multidisciplinary product teams when working at the Government Digital Service. Naturally, he wanted to bring those benefits to Croydon.

GDS style product teams wouldn’t have covered everything a local authority handles. In addition to developing digital products, the Croydon Digital Service runs business as usual technology services for the rest of the council, and some of our systems are ‘off the shelf’. We also deploy equipment and perform upgrades to keep our technology up-to-date.

Our new multidisciplinary teams combine product development with everything else. We still work in an agile way to deliver what’s really needed more easily and at a higher quality.

Previously we worked in teams centred on an area of expertise, such as ‘Technical Architecture’. We’re keeping the line management structure, and people of the same discipline remain in contact to share best practice and evolve common standards.

In July we set up our first multidisciplinary team for the corporate department, to deal with everything from IT roll-outs and upgrades to developing digital platforms. It’s been a pretty long journey in a short space of time to get here. We’ve found that bringing people together in a new team doesn’t automatically deliver results. Most of us in the service (myself included) were seasoned local authority employees. We had never even heard of agile, multidisciplinary teams, or any of the stuff we’re doing now.

So this is what we have been doing over the last few months to get us here (in no particular order):

  • investing in existing staff, providing training and building the culture to understand the agile practices we now use
  • identifying any skills Croydon Digital Service didn’t have, and hiring new people
  • giving colleagues the space to thrive, using their new knowledge to explore new roles
  • bringing in some of the technology teams that were embedded in other services
  • shifting to a “flatter” structural way of working – empowering staff more to make decisions and getting managers comfortable with “letting go”
  • introducing digital and agile practices like stand-ups, retros, weeknotes, Trello boards and, of course, blogging
  • introducing service assessments and the Technology Code of Practice
  • running a pilot multidisciplinary team (the one that designed this blog) to learn the best practices first hand

By bringing together people from different disciplines into the same team, all focussed on the same department and working in a truly collaborative and open way, we can better understand all the needs of that department.

This means we can understand the end-to-journey, from the public that interacts with this service to the back office systems and the staff that use them. From there, we can design processes and systems that are more effective and efficient, and that meet user needs.

What we’ve learned along the way

  • applying user-centred design on all our work has benefits, whether we’re rolling out new printers and phones, or developing our beta blog (this site)
  • don’t be afraid to tailor your approach to suit your environment – in fact, absolutely do this
  • giving autonomy produces results
  • sitting together in multidisciplinary teams is VERY important
  • as is having walls (something we lack here, so we’ve created walls of whiteboards)
  • don’t try and get it perfect: test new waters with a pilot, find something workable, and then iterate

This is the start of our journey. We need to re-organise ourselves into a few more of these teams, and get to grips with exactly how it’ll work. We will continue to learn and iterate, developing our staff and completing recruitment so we have all the skills we need. And most of all, we should now start seeing the results from these new ways of working. In fact, our corporate multidisciplinary team has its first show-and-tell this week!

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