Several months after the Healthcare.gov debacle, it seems the federal government wants to make sure its websites and mobile applications operate as smoothly and seamlessly as possible.
To that end, the government has launched the U.S. Digital Service, headed by developer Mikey Dickerson, formerly of Google and the Obama for America campaign. Dickerson will manage a small team tasked with guiding government agencies in finding more effective ways to operate online.
The first step in that streamlining is the U.S. Digital Services Playbook, which begins with the preamble:
Today, too many of our digital services projects do not work well, are delivered late, or are over budget. To increase the success rate of these projects, the U.S. Government needs a new approach. We created a playbook of 13 key ‘plays’ drawn from successful best practices from the private sector and government that, if followed together, will help government build effective government services.
1. Understand what people need.
2. Address the whole experience, from start to finish.
3. Make it simple and intuitive.
4. Build the service using agile and iterative practices.
5. Structure budgets and contracts to support delivery.
6. Assign one leader and hold that person accountable.
7. Bring in experienced teams.
8. Choose a modern technology stack.
9. Deploy in a flexible hosting environment.
10. Automate testing and deployments.
11. Manage security and privacy through reusable practices.
12. Use data to drive decisions.
13. Default to open.
Dickerson is widely credited with helping transform Healthcare.gov from a barely-functioning mess of a website to something capable of servicing millions of people, and these 13 “plays” presumably encapsulate much of what he learned while toiling away at that project. (The Playbook website goes into each of the 13 in more depth, complete with do-it-yourself checklists.)
Whether you’re operating a massive government agency’s website or building a small mobile app, some key fundamentals apply to every project in order to ensure it’ll run (relatively) smoothly: locked-down specifications and feature sets, in order to deliver the project on-time and on-budget; the right contractors; early and frequent testing in order to discover bugs; and a back-end capable of handling the inevitable data-load from whomever will use the finished product.
Hopefully the U.S. Digital Service can help the government’s websites and apps run a little more smoothly. The group certainly has a big job in front of it.
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