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Digital By Default Service Standard – Raising the Bar

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Exemplar projects, Guest blog

As Electoral registration today follows Lasting Power of attorney (LPA) in becoming a live exemplar, Chris Mitchell blogs about how LPA has led the pack in meeting the high standards required to reach this milestone...


First of many

Recently the LPA exemplar became the first service to achieve the full, live Digital by Default Service Standard. It’s the culmination of a great deal of work, by a team of people from The Office of the Public Guardian, MOJ Digital and GDS.

I’m a Transformation Lead at GDS and I’ve been working on the LPA digital service since early alpha. I’ve also watched the standard itself develop over this time. In fact development of LPA and the other exemplar digital services have helped inform the development of the standard in a kind of mutual, virtuous circle.

So why is it important?

The Digital by Default Standard is the embodiment of great practice for digital services. When used properly it forms the foundation of quality assurance both for the digital product itself and the way it’s built and managed.

A few elements of the standard are specific to government though it’s mainly about building great digital products. I recently showed the standard and GOV.UK service manual to a friend who works in IT at a blue chip, market-leading company and his response was “Wow, I’m impressed! I’m going to use this.”

If you achieve the standard you will end up with a great service that continues to improve and react to evolving user needs. Conversely, if the service is unable to meet any of the points on the standard that’s a clear indication that there is a serious issue with the product or the way its being delivered.

Oh, and if your service doesn’t pass the assessment, GDS has the authority to prevent it from going live. This is clearly a last resort, though, and any service manager worth their salt wouldn’t want their service to go live if it fails to meet the standard.

Goodness baked in

If you treat the standard as a tick-box exercise it’ll be a painful process that seems to get in the way and fails to deliver its full value. If you embed the standard into your development plans from the start it brings a structured approach to quality that also helps improve the way you work.

With the LPA digital service we did the latter. We kept the standard highly visible by sticking it up on the wall from the start and used a red, amber, green status to monitor progress.

We also applied each point in the standard by adding them as user stories to our backlog and used the really helpful guides from the service manual to understand how to achieve each of those requirements.

As we got closer to our assessment we had a highly visible countdown and the focus shifted towards meeting the final few points. We even had a “mock exam” to check that we had everything in place but it never felt like the work was simply to pass an assessment, rather that we were demonstrating to ourselves and others that we were ready to move from the beta phase to a fully live service.

Testing, testing

Although I was pretty confident the team had done everything they needed to, the assessment itself was a little nerve-wracking. Pitching what you’ve built and been doing for the last 18 months to leading experts can be daunting so it was really helpful that we’d gathered all our evidence in one place, in advance.

I needn’t have worried. In the end Kit Collingwood, Kaz Hufton, Nadine Drelaud and Guillaume Roderick knew their stuff and did a brilliant job of showing that the LPA service is a great product that’s built and managed the right way. In fact, I later heard that the lead assessor had said "Tell them congrats from me.  The best assessment I've lead on."  You can read the full assessor’s report here.


In passing the Digital by Default Service Standard the service moved from beta to live.  You can read the full story here. In reality, the transition to live means little more than removing the “beta” banner. The hard work’s been done and thanks to the service standard and service manual we know that LPA is everything a modern government digital service should be.

Chris Mitchell is @chris_mitch on Twitter.

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