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Wearing my All Black jacket in chilly Swansea I expected to see the passion of the Welsh come out as I made my way to one of our ‘sister’ agencies across the UK ? the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Perhaps because of their lean times on the rugby field of late, there was barely a whimper!  What I did experience by the end of my day-long visit was an example of an agency now leading the field, following a central government digital first strategy released nearly two years ago. I wanted to understand the technical and adaptive leadership qualities that have made this organisation stand out, so I can inform, intervene and invest for a similar return in the Transport Agency (NZTA).

DVLA’s winning purpose is ‘to get the right drivers and vehicles taxed and on the road, as simply, safely and efficiently for the public as possible’. To achieve this, DVLA embarked on a business strategy that has digitalization embedded in it. It includes, by 2020, at least 80% of all the business services will be digital. Although levels of digital services currently are similar to that of the NZTA (between 20-30% depending on the service), its uptake rate has far greater acceleration, and it has delivered two new services in the last few months, and plan for another two by September. My question is ‘where is this quality execution and pace coming from, because we haven’t seen this in their sporting arena for quite a while?’

In my time talking with DVLA, I saw a new game plan emerging. Excuse my continued rugby analogy for those not interested in this sport; however, I believe it can bring more meaning for the story that can be shared further. Spectating for the day my observations included:

Position    Role to Play
Full Back IT is being organized to provide safety and security ‘at the back’ – so no one gets through!
Centre/Wings Product teams combining IT & Business have been put together to score the ‘tries’ – projects can be three to six months, and they must leverage/re-use all the hard work done ‘up front’.
Five Eights The rest of the team doesn’t like going backwards especially if policy changes don’t keep up with technology delivery or business need. Assigned to the portfolio of digital service initiatives are players that have a safe pair of hands to distribute the workload (ball) to time and scope, where all policy matters are ‘sorted’ just in time.
Half  Many fast pace initiatives like this in past haven’t been successful, because the tactics aren’t changed when the game plan isn’t working. DVLA don’t have a complete game plan, yet they know the direction they are heading and other than a simple portfolio view of who is playing where and doing what for the next few months, their longer term aspirations are for most players to be able to put on whatever jersey is required to get across the line. This is especially so for the new emerging IT players as more work is brought back in house, from the large multinationals where most workload was previously outsourced.
Loose Forwards Complementing the DVLA people, the loose trio is getting ‘extra grunt’ through expanded partnering, community sourcing and collaboration. That includes ‘super subs’ from subject matter experts in a community technology hub as well as investing in young player development through an “interchange bench” from the local Universities. The FTE cap does not apply to the latter and this has been instrumental to the new ideas and new efforts.
Tight Forwards

The grunt of the digital first experience is that DVLAs people will drive forward the needed changes and they have articulated the needed qualities of these players.  A short version of these includes:

  • Analysis – have a clear insight into digital habits and needs
  • Ambition – think about what is the best possible digital experience
  • Attitude – be disruptive
  • Agility – things change; and so be agile/adaptive in thinking and execution.

Through a wide array of communication mediums (‘team talks’), as a spectator I observed the management team leading by example for the needed organisational and culture changes. Initiatives that don’t involve digital first get ‘kicked for touch’. That has included in the past, push back on key stakeholder initiatives that DVLA would have delivered, yet would have just added the risk of an infringement or penalty later on as that added complexity to the enterprise system debt. There also didn’t seem as much focus needed on the obstructions or interferences (‘the opposition’) so momentum and positive play, are likely to be key energy boosts for the team.


 There was an expectation Government Digital Services (equivalent of our GCIO and Result Areas) would need to be an arbiter; however because DVLA is playing so well and fairly, that referee doesn’t need to intervene or blow the whistle, so a much more free flowing game is in play …

I was able to take away a ‘players kit’ of plans and other ploys that will be of great use to our team at NZTA because most of the initiatives being advanced by DVLA are on our work programme for the next few years too. It was a great way of understanding HOW to be fitter for that upcoming game and my key takeout is that DVLA is not playing by the traditional rules anymore. They have found a new way of winning and I was taken by their cultural changes in progress that demonstrate commitment, courage and confidence that perhaps our Men in Black last experienced against them in the previous century (and we don’t want them too far progressed by Rugby World Cup in 2015)!