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12 months of Transformation at GDS

  • Posted by admin
  • On June 11, 2016
  • agile, design thinking, fun, transformation

Blog written towards end of 2014. I ended up saying that I look forward to doing GDS at other organisations.. In my current role at Home Official digital I am trying to do the same

In the words of Tim O’Reilly, the Government Digital Service is the bible that all open government should follow. As I get ready to leave GDS, I feel proud to have been part of an organisation that is leading digital transformation in government.

To achieve transformation and openness, GDS encourages digital teams to be agile. My year spent as a delivery manager for the GDS Performance Platform allowed me to experience and help lead an agile project that I believe comes pretty close to being perfect.

Both the culture of the team working on the project, and the processes they work by, have been critical to the success of the Platform’s agile way of working.


We have a working culture that values its people and embraces experimentation. For example, we have a regular week-long ‘firebreak’ at the end of every 3 month roadmap. During this firebreak, every member of our team is given total freedom to work on a project they are enthusiastic about.

The team members decide for themselves what they will work on, who they will work with, and how they will carry it out. In fact there’s only one rule to firebreak: people who sign up must show the results to the company at the end.

There’s been some amazing outcomes. We’ve built scripts to automate the creation of 700 dashboards for government transactions. And we’ve created cheapseats, an automated functional testing suite that ensures data quality across the Performance Platform’s hundreds of dashboards.

We do other small small things well that have made our team a fun place to work. There is a team biscuit tin (with a rule that it should never be empty), mission patches for big launches, Lego avatars, cakes for every birthday, Friday burritos, etc.

Team culture

All these things are small but create a great team spirit. I found myself in a team of self-managing members who share a vision and are genuinely committed to upholding GDS’s culture and values. They are team players, who don’t take themselves too seriously, and know how to have fun.

The other thing that makes GDS and the Performance Platform special are the processes we use.
We always focus on user needs, constantly seeking feedback from real users. The mantra of the whole organisation is ‘show the thing’.
In our team, we used automated and functional test frameworks to reduce the time taken to create a single dashboard from 45 days to 1 day. We used emergent architecture and continuous delivery – the team’s definition of ‘done’ is when a feature is deployed to the live site, not before.
We used other techniques including lean startup approaches (minimal viable product, continuous delivery, continuous feedback), behaviour-driven development, constant refining of the backlog, and design thinking.

To sum up, the team always dreamt big, got things done and had fun at work. At the nexus of these three circles are the people I most enjoy working with.

Where I enjoy working


I’m extraordinarily grateful to have had the opportunity to do that every day in my 12 months at GDS. I look forward to do ‘a GDS’ to other organisations 🙂



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