Own your Alpha

In Government our digital services get assessed at each stage of their journey. From Discovery into Alpha. Alpha through Beta. And Beta into Live.

Every service that ends up on GOV.UK will have to go through this. Each one assessed against the Service Standard for Government.

A panel of trained assessors will conduct the assessment. Each panel member from a different discipline within digital. The panel will cover the team setup. Their design and research, and their chosen technology stack.

From my time as an assessor, I've noticed teams don't always conduct Alphas correctly. It's not that the team setup is wrong. It's also not their ways of working. They work in an iterative manner and use agile methodologies well.

So, what's the problem?

Well, what I often see in Alpha assessments, is that teams aren't striving to find the right solution. They have a first attempt. They then continue to tweak the design. And, by the end of the Alpha they have something they can take into Beta.

The problem with this, is that you've conducted a Beta during your Alpha phase.

You have worked in an iterative manner. But, you've only iterated parts of the same design. You're missing huge opportunities to find the very best solution.

Sure, your design might be ok. It might do ok in research sessions. But you can't be sure it's the right solution if it's the only one you've tried.

As a general observation, humans often don't get things right first time. Experience can get you close, but it's still unlikely you will get it perfect. And this is why the Alpha phase is amazing for designers.

For me, as a designer, the Alpha phase is the best part. It's a clean slate. Blue sky thinking. It's the part where I can pull everything apart and ask challenging questions.

Why can't we do that? Why should the design fit the existing crappy process? Why aren't we changing the crappy process? Why don't we do something completely different instead? What can you hook into in the back-end to make this less tedious for users?

Alpha is the phase where I do most of my design work. Where I get it wrong, a lot! But I also learn the most. It's about huge iterations. Completely different design approaches. Alternate user journeys. And if it doesn't work? Tear the whole thing up and start again.

Be bold. Iterate wildly. Then, sit in front of the panel and tell them with no doubts how you know that you've designed the best solution.

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