Reuse sounds great. We like reuse. Reuse means less duplication. Ensuring that wheel-like objects are not invented all over DWP’s Digital landscape seems like time well-spent. O that avoiding the reinvention of many round rolling things were as simple as saying “don’t reinvent the wheel.”

Project delivery units (PDUs) are the building blocks of our delivery. These empowered teams need a well-defined context, a clear problem statement and complementarily skilled team members. Yet even with a following wind, there is a stormy sea to navigate, after all delivery is hard. Even if each team’s problems are sufficiently distinct to ensure that there’s no overlap, we’re all building digital solutions. Many of those will use cloud hosting, microservices and APIs. Many will use robotics or bank account validation or require level 1 identities for the users that interact with them. Wouldn’t it be great if we could build each of these patterns out as templates/exemplars/shared services, run them in just one place, have one group maintain and extend them, but share the benefit across all the PDUs. Reuse sounds great.

Reuse is hard to do and as an isolated goal in and of itself, reuse can be a dangerous thing. After all it’s not very agile to build a department-wide massively scalable service when we only have demand from a single PDU. To assess demand, everyone needs visibility and even with it, no one has a crystal ball that accurately reports the future. The PDUs need visibility, Design Authority needs visibility, IOS and Technology Platforms need visibility. There’s a creative tension between planning everything up front to identify and organise opportunities for reuse, versus enabling PDUs to move forward at pace, react to change in an agile fashion and control their own destiny. That’s the root of seek-permission governance versus seek-forgiveness agility: it’s a healthy tension and as a publicly accountable Government department, we need both.

Tech Lab is firming up our operating model, the simple 1-sentence description of how we work within DWP Digital to add value. There are two parts to Tech Lab, Delivery and Innovation. Tech Lab Delivery takes well-formed problem statements (often shared challenges articulated by PDUs at Design Authority), iterates to produce Technology Demonstrators or Reference Implementations, then hands those over to PDUs or to service management teams to form the basis of long-term-supported, single instance shared services. There’s a whole pipeline of activity required to make that work, but we play an important part. We’re trying to identify the common bits, well before anyone needs them, and deliver technology to accelerate the PDUs ability to build customer-facing services on top of it. We do this by working with engineers from the PDUs.

We’re trying to be absolutely transparent about what we’re working on to help other people make informed, delivery-focussed decisions. [Managed] duplication is not a bad thing. It’s the unmanaged duplication of effort that poses the greatest risk. Next week, more about Tech Lab Innovation.