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of what we’re trying to achieve.” Scale may be an understatement.
With more than 85,000 employees, DWP delivers critical services including pensions and child care, disability, and ill-health benefits to more than 22 million customers each year. It pays out £166 billion annually, accounting for a third of all daily banking transactions in the U.K.
But unlike many transplants from the private sector, Cunnington isn’t intimidated by the department’s massive scale. “A lot of commercial organizations are bigger,”
he says. “They have
exactly the same issues of bureaucracy and politicking that big government organizations have. The nice thing about DWP is
it only operates in one country, in contrast to my past life at Vodafone.”
Early on, Cunnington
realized that DWP had
severely underinvested
in people and digital
technology. It had a notable shortage of digital skills,
including user research, user experience, analytics, content design and service architecture. And he couldn’t afford to hire enough new digital talent in a reasonable time frame to create the widespread cultural change so sorely needed.
So Cunnington instead
decided to embark on the massive challenge of building the department’s digital capabilities from the ground up and the inside out. Borrowing from his private- sector work, he created a boot camp-style academy similar to one he’d established previously at Vodafone.
DWP’s Digital Academy is designed to get staff members
digital-ready quickly and efficiently. Employees spend six weeks at one of two Digital Academy locations, in Fulham or Leeds, training on key elements such as user-centric design, agile development and digital government services.
They learn wireframing, paper prototyping, agile project management, design thinking, coding and more. At the end of six weeks, they’re shipped back and given a chance to work on actual projects.
work independently. From there, they can learn as apprentices until they are ready to strike out on their own.
Stock, known as “Ponytail Rick” because of his long mane of brown hair, designed the academy’s curriculum with the help of a few colleagues. Having invested about 10 hours of development time for every hour of training content, he proudly says, “We are the academy — it runs through our veins.”
Stock had no prior experience as a formal trainer but says
spending 15 years in digital industries proved critical to this challenge. “The handy thing was having had quite a broad experience during that time,” he says. “I had a lot of contacts we could bring in.”
What really distinguishes the Digital Academy from traditional training models is that it’s targeted directly to the kinds of digital roles people are actually
seeking, from service architects to user-experience designers to digital product owners. That focus helps graduates learn and speak the same language as experts in their roles.
“They’d come back and say to me, ‘Well, we thought we were going to be lost but because of what we learned in the first four weeks, we could sit in a scrum meeting or in a product meeting, and we knew exactly what was going on,’” Stock says. “That was really a lightbulb moment.”
Another critical feature of the Digital Academy has been its focus on learning by working on live projects. Co-located with the Leeds Academy is one of DWP’s digital
And no, six weeks of training doesn’t mean these freshly minted academy graduates can hit the ground running and manage digital programs.
“What you get in six or eight weeks is not going to get you to where you can drop in and lead some of these programs, where we’re trying to deliver complex, world-class solutions in a very short space of time,” says Rick Stock, the academy’s former program director.
Instead, Cunnington and
Stock created what they call the “plumber’s mate” model, in which graduates will know enough
to contribute to a team but not necessarily to lead a project or
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