Putting the user at the centre of an agile delivery for the Fees Service
It’s done! Our team has delivered a new website for the Fees Service which will greatly improve student fees experience and make life easier for staff. The effort took 8 sprints, was underpinned by robust evidence, and designed with significant collaboration from the Fees and Student Support team.
This was no mean feat for a brand new team, working in an entirely new way and contending with the challenges from the Covid virus.
We’ll soon be reaching out to schools with guidance for their own fees related content.
First, let’s reflect a little on how we got here.
What we set out to do, and why
To begin with, our approach to the Fees Service website project has seen us think differently about website management. Instead of considering the website as an entity in itself to be managed, we imagined any successful site as collections of features that helps users to achieve effective outcomes.
Fundamentally, this is about creating something useful that helps our users (students, parents, staff) solve problems and do the things they want to do. Usefulness is the ultimate measure of the value of a website. If a piece of content or a feature isn’t serving the user or the business in a demonstrable way, then it probably shouldn’t be there.
As such our overarching goal with the new website could be expressed as wanting to change student behaviours for the better, rather than the production (or removal) of web pages.
Delivering effective, efficient and satisfying prospective student website experiences means delivering for the business itself.
How we’ve been working
The way we work has been critical in giving us the best chance of success in designing for improved fees experience. This organisational mind-set and culture underpins everything we do and includes:
- the design principles we work to
- our insistence on open communication and strong collaborative relationships
- our dedication to continuous learning
- leading with evidence, always
- our agile programme of delivery
These are fundamental to our ability to deliver great experiences.
Lead with principles
The team has benefited from previous projects in Information Services – for example the work in establishing the first University-wide Digital Experience Design System.
The starting point for this design system was a set of principles on which standards could be set. These are also core to the way in which the PSWC team operates. They share a good deal of commonality with the robust Government Design Principles I followed in previous roles in the Public Sector.
In everything we do the team aims to demonstrate that they:
- understand our users
- design for context
- design for inclusivity
- evidence decisions
- evaluate continuously
- are consistent – but not necessarily uniform – in their solutions
- work transparently
- collaborate across disciplines
- are open to change
The importance of evidence and collaboration
To deliver, we first had to understand the problems we were setting out to solve. Everything the PSWC team do is driven by evidence, with our collaborative approach seeking to:
- discover and understand the problems and priorities of our users
- ideate and prototype solutions for these problems and priorities
- test and refine those solutions with real students and staff
Necessarily, getting to the bottom of our student ‘top tasks’ and Fees Service priorities underpins our efforts to design solutions.
Fortunately, we’ve got some robust and recent data around prospective student top tasks, from a piece of research undertaken for us in 2018 by the Edinburgh User Experience Consultancy User Vision.
The top task survey they did for us captured the priorities of over 2000 students and their advisors.
As ever, a small number of tasks were disproportionately important to prospective students with our top 4 tasks accounting for around a quarter of all votes. Informed by the research a prospective students tuition fee needs are:
- finding fees for a particular programme
- establishing tuition costs over multiple years
- understanding how the university determines fee status
- understanding how and when to pay tuition fees
- finding funding options
Our discovery didn’t stop there. We also:
- interviewed University staff about their experiences of providing services to prospective students
- spent the day talking to prospective postgraduates and observing them interacting with colleagues during a visit day
- performed guerrilla usability testing at the University’s Postgraduate Open Days on 13 and 15 November 2019
- shared the experience of prospective postgraduate students navigating the University website to find information with key staff, working with them to prioritise the biggest issues we need to fix first
This relentless discovery meant we could progress to ideate and prototype solutions, co-designing and collaborating with Fees Service staff themselves, before testing with real students (or even family members through the Covid crisis).
Working in an Agile capacity
Our team also broke new ground in the way we planned to deliver the work on the back of all that discovery. The new Prospective Student Web Content Team adopted an Agile approach to delivery, using the Scrum framework.
There were lots of reasons for settling on that approach, not the least of which was the uncertain truth behind the process of discovery itself and the need to adapt.
Consider the size and complexity of the University’s digital estate, the needs of our diverse audience groups, and the hundreds of stakeholders – how do you bring a new site into that tangled ecosystem?
You do it by focusing on the most important things first – for the reader and for the organisation. Scrum was a good fit for the mission, supporting us to:
- work in a fully transparent manner
- self-organise and deliver regular, incremental improvements
- ensure we can adapt to change
- regularly reflect on how we can be more effective
What benefits are we bringing?
We set out to change student behaviours by letting them succeed, working to ensure students can:
- successfully find tuition fees for a given programme and a given year
- know how and when to pay their tuition fees
- understand fee status
- estimate their likely total cost of study
- efficiently self-serve and route any queries, when they have to, to the correct people
- have confidence in fees policy content across the site
In helping students succeed we are also enabling a host of key efficiencies for the business itself, including:
- Fewer waster or ineligible applications
Supporting students to independently decide whether study at Edinburgh is a good fit for them, and if it is to make the strongest possible application.
- Fewer unnecessary enquiries
Letting students self-serve by giving them the content and answers they need, reducing the enquiries that get in the way of delivering customer service to students who need it.
- Reduced duplication of effort
Developing areas of key ‘golden content’ – single sources of truth which allow for more efficient management and confidence in our content.
- Management information that informs decision making
Steering continual improvement of site features from our monitoring and reporting and, at a higher level, informing overall priorities for our steering group.
Of course, upon launch of the website, we don’t close up shop. Improvements to fees experience is an ongoing commitment.
In the first instance, a huge opportunity now exists for schools to consider their own fees related provision, taking advantage of the new website to support improved fees experience. We’re on hand to work with schools and support you throughout.
We’ll soon be publishing guidance for schools editors (covered in our next blog post) touching on:
- what needs to change and why
- how you should approach changes to fee content
As part of that, the PSWC team will also be establishing:
- roles and responsibilities surrounding Fees web content provision (RACI)
- the processes for governance and review of fees content
- how we intend to evaluate and monitor the new website
We set out to change student behaviours by giving them the content we know they need. It’s good for the business and it’s good for the end user.
We’ll be measuring and monitoring their success over time, and adapting as necessary, to make sure that’s the case.
We’ve summarised all our sprints through delivery, so everyone knows what we’ve done (and what we’ve yet to conquer).
As always, if you’ve any questions, please get in touch.