Planning a ‘firebreak’ – beta website development

We are starting our first ‘firebreak’ – a short break in a development cycle to rejuvenate and reset the team. Because this process is new to us, we thought we would share the thinking behind it. 

To develop our new website, we have been using the iterative development approach known as Agile. This means you build software in small, incremental stages, called sprints, working to achieve a series of goals that can be released as features or fixes periodically. In contrast to other approaches, Agile encourages the development and release of individual functions as opposed to a whole, finished product. This is what has enabled us to release our website in its “beta” stage. 

Each Agile development is unique, and we have chosen to work in three-week sprints. During this time our development and technical teams deliver features, bug fixes and infrastructure changes. 

This is a very intensive way of working and the team can quickly burn out if the cycle is not broken. We looked to the Government Digital Service, Google and other tech organisations to see if they had any solutions, and they did – a ‘firebreak’. 

A firebreak is, as the GOV.UK team describes it, a time to “investigate new ideas”, allowing developers to “scratch their own itches”. We decided that a two-week firebreak once a quarter would help to maintain development pace and morale. The break would help the development and technical teams to reflect and recharge by working on their own ideas for the Scouts. We could also use this time to reflect on our work, meeting with key stakeholders to look at the year ahead and plan for the next quarter. 

We also decided, to ensure we were maximising value from the ‘break’, that we would set some rules. 

How it works 

Just as in a normal sprint, the team comes together to discuss issues. In this case, they also discuss ideas they have had, to see whether it ‘has legs’. As individuals, or in small groups, team members then pitch their idea, explaining what it is and why they feel it’s important. 

To ensure pitches are relevant to the development of our website, they have to fulfil these criteria: 

  • the idea must be related to the overall direction we are moving in; 
  • the work must be completed within the firebreak and take no longer. 

The team then votes on ideas they want to work on and those they feel will positively impact the Scouts. From this, our firebreak work is decided. Development work then begins and is presented at the end of the two-week period. 

We can’t wait to share the outcomes of our first firebreak with you.

Watch: New feature webinar

To help showcase the new features on our beta website, the Digital team held two webinars in June.

Hosted by our Digital Product Manager Rachel Davidson, UK Cub Scout Advisor Matthew Longden and Programme Sponsor Andrew Sutherland, they covered in detail how to use elements of our website and gave users the chance to ask questions about content and functionality of the website.

For those who couldn’t attend the webinars, you can watch a recording in full below:

New release: Group Finder and updates to Programme Planning

The Scouts beta website has been updated to include a host of exciting features, including a new sample Group Finder search and improvements to our programme planning feature.

In a new release, the website now gives visitors the chance to search sample data for Scout groups in their area, providing details on the sections run there, what day of the week they are running and contact information for the section leaders. Currently, the system uses ‘dummy’ information to demonstrate future functionality, and users are warned of this when searching on the site. This will, however, be updated with live information, and we hope this simple tool will be incredibly useful to new and existing members.

The programme planning feature has also seen its fair share of updates, with the inclusion of staged badges in the badge and activity search pages, and the ability to delete activities in planned programmes. These changes help to make the creation of interesting and varied programmes even easier for section leaders.

We’re really excited to be launching these new features and we can’t wait to hear what you think.

Digital Transformation Programme – Programme Sponsor

The Scouts are recruiting for a volunteer Programme Sponsor to join our new Digital Programme Board, overseeing the organisation’s Digital Transformation Programme.

The programme is one of twelve areas of work developed to deliver Skills for Life, our organisational strategy, and focuses on creating and supporting delightful experiences for our members and young people through simpler ways of working and improved engagement and information sharing.

From providing advice and guidance to our adult volunteers in support of them planning and delivering weekly programmes for young people, helping young people record their journey through Scouting, the Programme Sponsor will play a part in improving how we deliver technology across the organisation.

We have already launched our beta website, providing visitors with a more joined-up online experience with features such as programme planning and POR, all in one place. With the creation of our Digital Programme Board, we are looking to radically reshape the delivery of services we offer, and the Programme Sponsor will sit at the heart of it.

The Programme Sponsor will make sure the Digital Programme delivers the capabilities, outcomes and benefits that meets the needs of the Scouts and help us to deliver our strategy. This involves co-chairing the Programme Board alongside the Senior Responsible Owner, a staff member and ensuring that the interests and needs of members are represented.

The ideal candidate will have knowledge of Scouting, with skills in leading a complex programme and knowledge and experience of delivering Digital Transformation.

To learn more about this opportunity and to apply for this exciting role, please download the candidate pack here. If you have any questions or queries regarding the role, please email digital@scouts.org.uk.

Beta website – planned maintenance

We are running some planned maintenance on our new beta website, which means the website is currently experiencing some downtime.

As our site is in beta, we’re working on updating elements of the underlying architecture to improve the overall user experience, which unfortunately means the site won’t be loading for the time being. Once the maintenance is complete, however, you’ll be able to access the programme planning feature with your saved programmes, POR and a slew of new features we’ll be discussing in our next blog post.

If you have any questions or queries regarding this maintenance or the beta website, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on this blog or email digital@scouts.org.uk.

Exploring our beta website functionality

Our new beta website.

This month we have released our new website. As we explained, this website is available to use while it is still in development. Commonly known as the “beta” phase, the release of software at this stage allows users to shape it as it is created.

Much of the work making the new website has been focused on building the architecture underlying our systems. We held an infrastructure webinar in March to share details of the work involved in creating a future-proof base for our websites which you can view here. We have also focused on delivering user-facing functionality in a few key areas.

Firstly, we have implemented basic functionality such as website navigation. As an organisation with thousands of members, our website contains a lot of information on a variety of subjects; ensuring it is easily accessible starts with designing effective navigation. That’s why we’ve made sure all content areas can be reached from a horizontal navigation bar with four categories – Be a Scout, What Scouts do, Volunteers, About us, with another link to our Shop.

We also know that, to best serve the majority of our users who visit our websites on their phones, our website needs a mobile-first design. That’s why our menu bar is collapsible, and the website is designed as a series of stackable columns. This means, whatever the size of your screen, our content is designed to be readable and font sizes are accessible.

Under the hood, we have implemented a new, future-proof content management system (CMS) which will allow us to effectively manage news items, badge and activity data and website pages through the same system. This has been developed to ensure we can pull data from this CMS to populate tools, creating a single source of truth for badge, activity and POR data.

Our programme planning feature.

Our programme planning feature, designed to complement your existing administrative tools, is also now accessible from the Volunteers dropdown. You can plan and save sessions and terms in your browser and utilise pre-made programmes developed using our activity content. For now, the content is focused on Cub leaders.

Beyond this month’s release, we have a whole host of features planned. We will be implementing site search, and a first look at the proposed Group/Section finder from the website homepage. We will start to migrate our fundraising and events websites in addition to adding more leader-focused content and member resources.

We are aiming to implement single sign-on (SSO) on the website, which will allow you to sign in using the login you already have. It will help us develop features like saving and sharing programmes and will give you access to your planned sessions across multiple devices.

Our long-term goal is to make elements of our website more self-service, making it easier to access the resources you want, when you need them.

We’ll be hosting a webinar on Wednesday 19th June to demonstrate features of our beta website in more detail. The webinar will start at 7:30 and last approximately 30 minutes. You can register for the webinar by heading to scouts.org.uk/digitalwebinar, where you can also add the event to your calendar.

In the meantime, you can view a demonstration of our website and programme planning feature here, and you can keep up-to-date with new features and releases by subscribing to this blog.

WATCH: Beta website webinar

Last night, the digital team hosted an interactive webinar showcasing our new beta website, launching later this month. Hosted by our Digital Product Manager, Rachel Davidson, the webinar covered the website’s functionality and design, from the home page to our new programme planning tool.

For those who couldn’t attend last night, you can watch the webinar in full below:

You can also download slides from the webinar here.

Our new beta website

 

Later this month, we will be releasing the beta version of the new Scouts website. This website is the culmination of a year’s work, designing a new website from the ground-up that aims to deliver on our Skills for Life plan launched in May 2018.

Our new website, unlike other digital developments we have released over the years, will be publicly available in its ‘beta’ phase. We have been testing a prototype with a group of volunteers, and now we’re sharing this working version of our website to get feedback, giving you the chance to shape our tools and improve their quality.

What this means in practice is that our new site will contain some – though not all – of the information currently on scouts.org.uk. It won’t have the full functionality we have planned for it, and some information may be unavailable at the start. Scouts.org.uk will still continue to function as our main site until we have created a website that we are satisfied fulfils all of its functions and more. For the time being, you’ll still be able to access member resources and read our news from the same pages you usually visit.

One of the key objectives for our new website is the rationalisation of existing sites into a single source of truth – that’s why, alongside adding information to the beta site, we are working on improving it, too. We’ve already transferred some information which will be accessible from day one, and we’ll continue to add more.

As well as providing a new face for our organisation with a mobile-first design, the beta website will provide visitors with access to our new programme planning tool.

The new tool has been developed in collaboration with a group of section leaders from our Community of Interest, and national volunteers such as Wendy Human (UK Commissioner for Programme Assurance), Graeme Hamilton (UK Commissioner for Programme Delivery) and Andrew Sutherland (our lead volunteer in developing this new digital programme planning tool). It is designed to complement other tools you may use in the administration of Scouting, such as OSM, and provides access to our badge and activity content, helping leaders plan sessions with their sections using live and up-to-date information. This first release is aimed at Cub leaders, but we will be adding Beaver content by the end of this year and Scout section material during 2020.

We hope the programme planning tool becomes a key part of a section leader’s digital toolkit and makes it easier for anyone – whether you’re an old hand or just starting out – to give our Scouts skills for life.

Why are we releasing our site to the public in its ‘beta’ phase?

In the digital age, we need to be much more flexible and responsive in how we develop new online services. For the Scouts, this means involving our members, our strongest asset, from the beginning. We’ve been lucky to test, change and develop our beta website in collaboration with volunteers, but now we’d like to share our work with a wider group and gather even more feedback. We will use this feedback to continue to develop and improve the website in the future and we will regularly update you with what you have told us and what we are doing about it.

To tell you more about our new website, we’re hosting a webinar on Wednesday 8thMay. Starting at 7pm and lasting approximately 30 minutes, we’ll be covering details of our new website, its functionality and how you can feed back into its continued development. To join the webinar, follow the link below.

https://scouts.org.uk/digitalwebinar

For those unable to attend, the webinar will be recorded and available to watch on this blog from Thursday 9thMay.

We’re interested to see what you think of our new website, and hope you’ll enjoy being a part of its development.

WATCH: Technical infrastructure webinar

Last night, the digital team hosted an interactive technical infrastructure webinar. Hosted by our Digital Product Manager, Rachel Davidson, and our Solution Architect, Jeff Nayler, the webinar covered upgrades and improvements to the architecture underpinning our digital systems, namely our transition to the Public Cloud, our development process and lifecycle, and our future infrastructure plans.

For those who couldn’t attend last night, you can watch the webinar in full below:

You can download the slides used in our technical webinar here.

To learn more about our infrastructure, or to become part of our digital Community of Interest group to assist with future testing, please get in touch.

Technical infrastructure webinar

On Tuesday 12th March, the digital team will be hosting an interactive technical infrastructure webinar. Starting at 7:30pm and lasting approximately 30 minutes, the webinar will cover work undertaken over the past year to upgrade and improve the architecture underpinning our digital systems, including:

  • Our transition to the Public Cloud
  • Cloud Native development
  • Our software development lifecycle
  • DevOps

The webinar will be hosted by myself, TSA’s Digital Product Manager, and you will hear from our Solution Architect, Jeff Nayler. There will be a chance to ask questions at the end.

If you are interested in learning more about our technical infrastructure, please click or copy the link below into your browser at 7:30pm on Tuesday 12th March to join the meeting.

Join here

For those unable to attend, the webinar will be recorded and available to watch on this blog from Wednesday 13th March.