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A Guide to the Digital Services Playbook.

The United States Digital Service — the elite tech group that operates under the Executive Office of the President of the United States — has maintained the Digital Services Playbook since 2014. This in-depth reference guide provides 13 "plays" that government entities and contractors can leverage to create cutting-edge and customer-centric digital services.

We created the following series to help break down the Digital Services Playbook for public (and private) entities looking to start or manage digital services. Over the course of this series, we're going to break down each play in the Digital Service Playbook, provide some actionable insights into how you can utilize the core message in the play in real-to-life scenarios, and discuss how you can take home tangible and user-changing strategies for your next digital execution.

What is the Digital
Services Playbook?

This playbook provides 13 "plays" to help government entities execute amazing digital projects by enlisting the help of CX professionals and government-centric design agencies. While the broader goal of this playbook is to bridge the gap between public and private digital executions, it's become required reading for many government entities and contractors.

PLAY 01 UNDERSTAND WHAT PEOPLE NEED.

At the center of every digital project is the users. Every project should begin by exploring and understanding the needs of those who will be using the service, whether this is the stakeholders at an agency or their customers. These users should inform all functional and design components of a digital experience. Testing with real people is the main key.

Checklist:

  • Spend time with current and prospective users of the service.
  • Use qualitative and quantitative research to gain a deeper understanding of goals and needs.
  • Test designs and prototypes with the ideal user audience.
  • Document and share all findings across the team.
  • Develop user stories.
  • Regularly and continuously conduct testing.

Mobomo's Take:

Every project begins with a "requirements gathering" phase. As a team, our first step is to collect strategic knowledge that informs our research actions. We call this initial step the Discovery phase. It consists of stakeholder meetings, artifact analysis and developing an initial understanding of users or audiences, their needs and pain points. By the end of this phase, we will have an understanding of client goals, organization goals and user goals. These definitions are the DNA of the digital product to come.

PLAY 02 Address the Whole Experience.

In today’s world, there’s many different channels and touchpoints that a user can take to interact with agencies whether it’s in person or through digital services, including on a desktop, through a mobile app, or through the mobile web. At every touchpoint, we should understand and react to every interaction a user may have to gain a full picture of the experience.

Checklist:

  • Understand all the various points people can interact with an agency.
  • Identify pain points the consumer may experience when interacting.
  • Design digital services to seamlessly interact with offline experiences.
  • Use KPIs to understand how well all the touchpoints are meeting users’ needs.

Mobomo's Take:

The Discovery phase will have given us key knowledge that informs us how to best direct our research efforts, and insight on what type of user engagement is the most relevant in our project. We now enter the Research phase of our process. Our goal in this phase is to gain a nuanced and holistic understanding of our users, their needs and their context. Per case, we will interview our users, survey them and analyze the tools they use. The analysis of our findings will fulfill the goal and we will validate or modify our hypothesis from the previous phase. From our understanding of the user journey, opportunities for improvement will be revealed.

A program of requirements will be created. It will be accurate, mission critical, curated and prioritized by direct input of key actors.

PLAY 03 Make it Simple and Intuitive.

This play is fairly straightforward – all services should be simple and intuitive so that the users have a pleasant first experience and are more willing to come back to the site if needed.

Checklist:

  • Use the U.S. Web Design System as a simple style guide.
  • Use the design style guide consistently.
  • Provide clear information and instructions about where they are in the process.
  • Follow accessibility best practices and 508 compliance standards.
  • Use language that is familiar to the user and easy to understand.
  • Use language and design consistently throughout the experience.

Mobomo's Take:

As a result of the previous phases, we are now armed with robust insight and a clear definition of the experience problem. More importantly, we have a clear direction for our solution. The next step will be to bring this solution to life, starting by the creation of the interface and experience flows.

Our team designs interfaces that are 508 compliant from its inception, and we leverage stable usability patterns to guarantee a high level of intuitiveness from first versions. Previous user engagement steps inform us on how to communicate best with our users, and what content will be the most useful. Our talented team produces aesthetically pleasing, vibrant and engaging styles, and the results are streamlined experiences and relevant digital products.

PLAY 04 Build the Service Using Agile and Iterative Practices.

Using an agile methodology allows design and development teams to manage projects based off of sprints. This is a more fast-paced and staged approach of development. The goal is to be able to automatically and iteratively make updates to services, allow time for real feedback, and make adjustments as necessary.

Checklist:

  • Launch functioning user products as soon as possible.
  • Run usability tests frequently to identify areas of improvement.
  • Create a communicative and collaborative rapport with the product and development teams.
  • Delivery teams should remain small and focused.
  • Continually roll out features and improvements on a monthly basis.
  • Create prioritized lists, using backlogs to track.
  • Use a source code version control system.
  • Provide the whole team with access to the issue tracker board.
  • Use code reviews for quality check points.

Mobomo's Take:

IMPACT ™ is Mobomo's proven and adaptable Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) governance process. Each IMPACT Team follows Mobomo’s standard CMMI Dev Level 3 / ISO 9001:2015 Agile Software Development Methodology. We employ “sprints” where user stories are developed and implemented to deliver a functioning production-quality product. These sprint iterations are refined every week, building on each other to hit each major milestone, and ultimately deliver a launched product.

Establishing a steady cadence of usability testing allows us to draw metrics to track effectiveness and efficiency over features. We will validate our solutions or detect opportunities for improvement which we will incorporate to our roadmap of the product.

PLAY 05 Structure Budgets and Contracts to Support Delivery.

Well-defined contracts and budgeting can facilitate strong development best practices and provide a higher chance of success. For a more detailed explanation of flexibilities in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), reference the TechFAR Handbook to help better understand this play.

Checklist:

  • When setting up budgets, it should include research, discovery and prototyping activities.
  • The contracts should be set up and structured to request frequent deliverables.
  • All vendors should be held accountable to the deliverables, which is clearly stated in the contract.
  • The contract should not be so strict as to not leave room for adjustments and re-prioritization as the project progresses.
  • All software and data generated by third parties should remain under the control of the federal agency, but can be released to public as appropriate. The contract should clearly state these terms.
  • Contract should allow for the use of tools and services under different pricing models.
  • Contract should include a warranty period for necessary fixes.
  • Transition periods should be incorporated into the contract.

Mobomo's Take:

Mobomo takes every necessary step to clearly define contracts, budgets, project timelines and more. By clearly outlining the SOW for every project, the client will have a full understanding of every component of the agreement and their responsibilities in managing these details. This ensures that the full team is on the same page. While we like to set up this up-front agreement so that all stakeholders understand roles, we understand that project scopes and tasks may evolve as the project develops. Our team is flexible and able to write change orders for these developments.

PLAY 06 Assign One Leader and Hold that Person Accountable.

One product owner should have the full authority and responsibility to make all necessary business and technical decisions. This owner should be in charge of assigning tasks, responsibilities, and ensuring all features are built to expectations. Overall, they should be accountable to the success of the projects.

Checklist:

  • Identify one key product owner.
  • Stakeholders must agree that the one product owner has the full authority to make decisions about work delegation and implementation details.
  • This product owner should have a project management background with some technical experience.
  • This person should work off of a detailed plan that includes budget estimates and identifies funding sources.
  • Owner should have a strong relationship with contracting officer and various department teams.

Mobomo's Take:

Our team is used to working with and managing large teams of stakeholders. We believe in transparency and collaboration at every stage of a project timeline. Because of this, we like to offer everyone a seat at the table and include everyone as part of our Scrum Team. However, in order to keep timelines, it is key to have a decision-maker and product owner who can make the final decision. Our project manager will work directly with this person to ensure a timely project that meets all expectations.

PLAY 07 Bring in Experienced Teams.

Talent and expertise are key to ensuring a successful project. It’s important to bring in seasoned and experienced product managers, engineers and designers. All third-party vendors should be thoroughly evaluated for their competency if they are needed to subsidize tasks. The skill sets and competencies of teams will vary depending on the scope of each project.

Checklist:

  • All team members should have experience building high-traffic services.
  • They should have experience designing and developing mobile and web applications.
  • Members should be well versed in automated testing.
  • They should be experienced in modern development techniques.
  • Members of the team should have thorough experience in developing a secure product.
  • A federal budget officer and appropriate legal advisor is on the internal team or is a partner.

Mobomo's Take:

Mobomo provides a cohesive team with access to a core set of strategy, design, development, migration, and deployment experts who are ready on day one to provide the relevant skills and experience to work on client projects. Mobomo has a high retention rate of highly qualified personnel. Our focus in candidate selection is a combination of education, experience, technical competency in software development and content management capabilities, professional certifications, and client commitment. In a case where we do not consider ourselves subject-matter experts, we have a number of partners that we work with to supplement various types of work.

PLAY 08 Choose a Modern Technology Stack.

All technology stacks should promote team’s efficiency and should allow services to scale easily. The goal with the technology stack is to avoid vendor lock-in and match modern consumer expectations. This could include open source, cloud-based or commodity solutions.

Checklist:

  • Explore and choose software frameworks that private-sector companies commonly use.
  • Developed software should be able to be deployed across hardware types.
  • Create clear instructions for setting up a local development environment.
  • Choose open-source solutions when appropriate.

Mobomo's Take:

Mobomo will work with our client stakeholders to deliver a modern technology stack that supports and fulfills all functionality necessary for the specific project. We have experience working with open-source and cloud-based. Mobomo is well-versed in developing new applications from scratch on a variety of cloud-based and on-site infrastructures as well as migrating existing applications across platforms.

PLAY 09 Deploy in a Flexible Hosting Environment.

To support real-time requests and address any traffic spikes, services should be created and deployed within a flexible infrastructure. At all costs, avoid hosting services within data centers that require direct maintenance. This will avoid the need of disaster recovery plans.

Checklist:

  • Resources should be:
    1. - Readily available for on-demand and quick turnaround req.
      - Scaled based on real-time user demand.
      - Delivered through an API.
      - Available in multiple regions.
      - Pay as you go.

  • Applications should be hosted on a commodity hardware.

Mobomo's Take:

Keeping clients’ goals and expectations in mind, our team of experts build solutions that allow for flexibility. From our high traffic/high availability platform developed for NASA to our multilingual news and video streaming for VOA, we have come up with solutions to support many types of environments that need an adaptable infrastructure.

PLAY 10 Automate Testing and Deployments.

By using automated testing, clients are provided consistent protection from unintentional regressions. Developers are able to make frequent updates because they have confident that the automated scripts are verify thousands of scenarios in a matter of minutes. These tests can also simulate surges to test performance under the higher strains. Overall, automated testing and deployments provide an additional step of security for your clients.

Checklist:

  • Automated tests should be created to verify all user-facing functionality.
  • Integration tests should be used to verify modules and components.
  • Build all processes to incorporate automatic tests.
  • Host load and performance tests regularly.

Mobomo's Take:

Mobomo follows a rigorous DevSecOps cycle where it is as much about culture as tools. Our everything-in-code culture promotes a process that is documented, version controlled, and can be deployed or rolled back at any moment. We develop automated build pipelines that enable us to use continuous deployment and have hassle free Blue/Green release cycles with Test-Driven Development (TDD). The flexibility of this culture allows us to provide testable environments where issues can be traced and remediated quickly.

PLAY 11 Manage Security and Privacy Through Reusable Processes.

All digital services that are built have to protect sensitive information and be completely secure. Again, this should be a continuous process that is reviewed and improved upon. A legal officer should be consulted on a regular basis to review the information collected and how it is used and secured. In order to guarantee that this service is secure, it should be tested and certify the various components.

Checklist:

  • Collaborate with the correct legal officer to determine what service reviews are nece.
  • Determine what data is collected, why, how it is used, stored, and secured.
  • Decide on how to inform users about the data that is collected and whether they should have access over the information that is collected.
  • “Pre-certify” the hosting infrastructure through FedRAMP
  • Use deployment scripts to ensure consistent and controllable configurations.

Mobomo's Take:

Our team at Mobomo takes security precautions very seriously. Through our DevSecOps principles, we are quick to engage our stakeholders’ necessary legal teams and determine data collection and storage procedures. We also proudly partner with Acquia and AWS to provide a service that is FedRamp certified, for easy implementation and development that aligns with proper security restrictions.

PLAY 12 Use Data to Drive Decisions.

Measuring a services success is key to understanding and improving a user experience. This includes seeing how well the system performs in real-time. The metrics and key performance indicators to determine if the service is working well should be determined at the kick-off of a project. As well as testing and watching typical metrics, feedback forms/mechanisms should be in place for reporting any issues.

Checklist:

  • Monitor resource utilization and system performances in real time.
  • Measure median, 95th percentile, and 98th percentile performance.
  • Set up automated alerts to assist with monitoring.
  • Publish all metrics internally and externally.
  • Use tools that support multivariate testing in production.
  • Track concurrent users in real-time and monitor user behaviors.

Mobomo's Take:

During the kick-off and Discovery phase of every project, our teams align on the KPIs that will drive the success of a product and product launch. From this initial kick-off, our team will continually test, monitor, and optimize as necessary to reach our goals. A success case of this includes our work with NOAA Fisheries, where we knew we wanted to increase the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI). We tested and took surveys from our target and found that we were able to increase from 65 to over 80 in 2020.

PLAY 13 Default to Open.

Build services more openly and share data in order to collaborate and improve Government services together. Open-source communities can simplify public’s access to services and information.

Checklist:

  • Provide datasets to the public through bulk downloads and APIs.
  • Keep and maintain data catalogues in the agency’s enterprise data inventory and add public datasets.
  • Maintain all rights developed by third parties to be able to reuse at no cost to the public.
  • Waive all rights globally and make sure the data from service is explicitly in public domain.
  • When appropriate, publish source code of projects online and share your development process.

Mobomo's Take:

Team Mobomo is dedicated to giving back to the community that sustains us. A core competency of our company is Drupal. As a Supporting Partner member of the Drupal Association, we encourage all of our developers to contribute to the Drupal project when possible. In addition to bugfixes, contributed module patches, and contributions to Drupal core, our work with federal and commercial clients often requires us to provide custom solutions for a variety of needs. When possible, we contribute those solutions back to the Drupal community at large. Our executives, also, encourage contributions outside of regular project work by sponsoring innovation projects through Mobomo Labs, a research and development department of the company dedicated to testing out new technology and contributing back to open source.

For the full playbook, please reference playbook.cio.gov

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