https://pds.blog.parliament.uk/2018/01/31/what-discovery-alpha-beta-and-live-mean-at-parliament/

What discovery, alpha, beta, and live mean at Parliament

Image of a #ukparlibeta sign

You may have noticed that some of Parliament’s website looks a little bit different to other bits. These pages are our first steps in the redesign of parliament.uk.

We’re rethinking how Parliament exists on the web. That means rethinking the things the website does, the way it’s organised, and most importantly, making it work for everyone's needs.

This is an enormous task. Our current website is one of the largest producers of online material in the UK. We publish everything that MPs and Lords say in Parliament, how they voted, the stages of Bills, reports, and educational material. These are just the main features, there's a lot more that happens on the website.

Our approach

To help us with this problem and focus on the user needs for each different bit of the website, we’re building the new one differently.

Rather than redesigning the entire website at once, we’re creating little bits of it in iterative steps. This means taking little chunks of needs and goals that our users have, and coming up with solutions for them.

When we're confident that the solution is good, we'll add in some more goals and needs, until we have something that looks like a service. You'll probably hear us calling this 'agile' and 'iterative' design.

This helps us focus on what people really need from each bit of the website. As well as testing every service, page, and word to make sure it meets user needs, we also iterate based on feedback from our users.

We have four stages in this creative process.

Discovery

Discovery is the first thing a team will do. The aim is to give the team a clear understanding of what people are trying to achieve when they interact with Parliament. We do this because what we think people are trying to do is not always accurate.

My favourite example of this outside of Parliament is from the people building Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Their team discovered that elderly passengers were going to the toilet a lot in the current terminals. One assumption was that the new terminal needed lots more toilets.

But when the team went into the toilets they discovered another reason for this. Rather than using the facilities, elderly passengers were using the toilets as a quiet space to listen for their flight announcement.

Instead of more toilets, they realised they needed to create quiet spaces for people.

This is the kind of insight we hope for in discovery. We need to find the real needs of users and the real challenge for the project team.

Alpha

Alpha follows the discovery phase and is where the team takes the new insights and findings and begins to experiment with solutions to the challenge. Alpha is about creating lots of different ideas and rapidly testing them to see what works and what needs throwing away.

These ideas and experiments are tested with a select few users in workshops, research labs, and sometimes online.

Experimenting in alpha is important because if we don’t test multiple ideas (no matter how crazy they are) then the team won’t know what works and what doesn’t. Towards the end of alpha, a team will have a clearer idea about what they think a service might begin to look like.

Beta

When we’re confident our ideas are answering a good level of user needs and are working well enough, we’ll let them go out into the world on beta.parliament.uk. These services are by no means finished, perfect, or in many cases, better than the current website.

By letting users find and explore, we gain invaluable insight about how people are using the website and what journeys they take. As well as what they think about it from the ‘give feedback button’.

In beta we keep iterating and improving the site to meet user needs.

An example of a beta service is the MPs homepage.

Live

When that beta service is answering all the needs of its users, and surpassing the experience of the current service, we’ll make it ‘live’. This means that the old website is turned off, and you can only use the new website.

An example of this is the new search page.

We're never finished

Building a website in this way means that we're never finished. We don't have a date that we can say the new website will be done by. We definitely don't have a date for stopping work.

As we improve and grow our services, and our understanding of how people use them, they'll constantly change. We'll keep looking back and update pages and services. So even when everything looks new and shiny, to us, it's still a living product. Something that needs further improvement and refinement.

We rely on your feedback and thoughts to help us do that. You'll notice that at the top of our beta pages there's a 'give feedback' button, and we'd urge you to send us your thoughts. We really do read the feedback, and use it to help us understand what you need and why.

Keep an eye out for more of our updates. Hopefully it'll start to be easier and more enjoyable when using parliament.uk.

Read more posts on the work we're doing on parliament.uk

3 comments

  1. Ude

    What are the Tools and Techniques you use for the "discovery" phase?

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  2. Laurence Grinyer

    We use a whole variety of tools in discovery - it usually depends on what the challenge is. For a big area like this, where we don’t really understand much about our users, we focussed on interviews, shadowing, ethnography, surveys and data analytics from their current experiences and journeys. If you want to learn more about the tools for discovery I’d always recommend looking up the Open Policy Making Toolkit on Gov.uk.

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