back to article Inside GOV.UK: 'Chaos' and 'nightmare' as trendy Cabinet Office wrecked govt websites

Poor design and chaotic management by the supposedly crack team at the Cabinet Office's Government Digital Service (GDS) left huge swathes of the British government in disarray, internal documents seen by the Register reveal. The documents confirm that GDS knew its flagship initiative to move all government websites under one …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No surprises

    GDS remit - Stick it in the cloud, any cloud

    Does it work on my government paid for iPad/Droidpad?

    Don't worry about security you little people; all is well.

    This'll be the same GDS that's uploading previous RESTRICTED vulnerability information to Google with no thoughts about aggregation. Staffed and run by people that failed the interviews to get into the Google or Apple sweetshops.

  2. Ilmarinen
    FAIL

    phnaar..

    Clicking on their silly "random" link, I see they still have "that" logo bottom left of the .gov.uk pages

    What a bunch of W**kers.

    1. BongoJoe

      Re: phnaar..

      Why on $DIETY's Earth would they want a random link button?

      1. Raumkraut

        Re: phnaar..

        Why on $DIETY's Earth would they want a random link button?

        On a large complicated project, sometimes writing a silly little feature that is mildly entertaining, but serves no real purpose, is the only thing which can keep a developer sane. For a while, at least.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: phnaar..

          Why on $DIETY's Earth would they want a random link button?

          How else do you think government policy is decided?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: phnaar..

      I'm sure they'll find another 20k down the back of the governmental sofa to pay for an 'innovative' redesign.

      1. Kubla Cant Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: phnaar..

        What sort of redesign would you expect for 20k? Don't you mean 20m?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Presumably....

    ...the same people are behind the Graun's recent web disaster, which converted a reasonably useable news web site into a ghastly disorganised mashup of blogs spouting cack, reposting of "news" from fourth rate journalistic sources, confusion over what counted as opinion and what as news, confusion over when material was originally published, etc etc.

    And like gov.uk, the readers of the Graun did choose to express their views, and the management have decided to ignore them, preferring to admire their own digital graphics. But then I thought, maybe both government and graun are right? Perhaps substance is last century, and style now triumphs content time after time? Seems to be the direction the Reg is taking, too.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Presumably....

      "And like gov.uk, the readers of the Graun did choose to express their views,"

      The BBC News home web page did a redirect to their "new" format page the other day. It is whitespace and picture rich with not much informative text. That will probably become their default home page soon - irrespective of negative feedback.

      1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Presumably....

        Yes, both the Grauniad's and BBC's new "tabletised" web pages are a significant dumbing down of their previous offerings. Less content, focus on trivial pap, greatly reduced analysis and a reduction in the opportunities for comment.

        I assume it's their punishment for speaking up in the past.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Presumably....

          I suspect its to cover up the large reduction in the number of actual journalists they employ.

        2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: Presumably....

          "tabletised" web pages

          Pretty sure there is a strong positive correlation between tabletization of a website and the merciless dumbing down of offered content (and the increasing length of the Ghostery popup). Not to mention the impossibility of finding the rare left-over nugget not yet shat on by editiorial policy. People then leave...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Presumably....

            Actually, the content doesn't change, just the amount that is crowded onto a single page. If you mean that you think that content goals are changing to meet ever-sharper commercial requirements, you'[re right, but that has little to do with making it accessible to multiple types of devices.

            1. Chris Miller

              @The Beeb

              A few years back, the BBC went through a major 'rebranding' exercise on their home page, intended (I imagine) to make it more iPad-friendly. Previously, you could 'design' your own front page by removing items you weren't interested in (in my case: football, pop charts and children's programmes) and moving the ones that you were interested in to the top of the page. All this customisation was thrown into the bit bucket, severely pissing off regular users who had spent a fair bit of time getting 'their' page to look how they wanted, and were now being bombarded with irrelevant dross (a bit like the perpetual adverts now infesting BBC output).

              The BBC offered (prior to the change) the opportunity to beta test - the public comments were overwhelmingly negative. They went ahead with the change anyway. Within a few days there were over 2,000 comments, at least 98% of them negative. Initially, the managers responsible responded, but without any indication that they were prepared to do anything. Shortly thereafter the comments were cleared, within a few days there were another 1,000+, nearly all negative. Some of us used Google to locate 'old' versions of the home page lurking around the BBC site - if they were linked on the comments, the pages were soon closed down.

              There seem to be only three rules for senior managers at the Beeb: never explain; never apologise; and never, ever admit that you might in any way ever have been wrong about anything. I can see no reason why the GDS would be any different.

    2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Presumably....

      ...the same people are behind the Graun's recent web disaster, which converted a reasonably useable news web site into a ghastly disorganised mashup of blogs spouting cack, reposting of "news" from fourth rate journalistic sources, confusion over what counted as opinion and what as news, confusion over when material was originally published, etc etc.

      Trying to recreate the spirit of the printed paper online, then?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: Presumably....

        If you've not read "Gun, with occasional music" I think, perhaps, you should.

      2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Presumably....

        Trying to recreate the spirit of the printed paper online, then?

        Sadly, you cannot create a left-of-center wrapper for your fries with that!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The only comment on the www.gov.uk pages

    </script>

    </body>

    </html><!-- Thanks Martha -->

    Says it all.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yeah, it's that bad. Actually, it's worse. I worked there, and am one of those who fled.

  6. nematoad Silver badge
    FAIL

    Good grief.

    "...£91m of pounds in savings," Pounds of what I wonder.

    "The designers rave about its radical focus on 'the user’ rather than the needs of Whitehall,”

    Well that knackers the use of any site designed like that, "Sod the content, look at the shiny!"

    As someone who was trained, many years ago, as a systems analyst, the question comes to mind, why did they not find out what the systems were for and who used them. Its simple enough, just ask the users and admins what it is that the system actually does and how it does it.

    You know, systems analysis.

    To me it looks like the GDS have recruited people with the same mind-set as those who developed, if that is the term, MS's Metro and Canonical's Unity. They seem to be arrogant know-it-alls who are so in love with their "vision" that practicality and the the needs of the clients is ignored in pursuit of showing off their so-called design skills. Remember form follows function. A pickaxe with a nice bendy handle might look different but probably won't do the job it was supposed to do.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good grief.

      "To me it looks like the GDS have recruited people with the same mind-set as those who developed, if that is the term, MS's Metro and Canonical's Unity. They seem to be arrogant know-it-alls who are so in love with their "vision" that practicality and the the needs of the clients is ignored in pursuit of showing off their so-called design skills."

      You've met them then? Because that's about spot on and not just on the visual design side of things.

      https://governmenttechnology.blog.gov.uk/2014/12/05/psn-compliance-all-change/

    2. Viv Fletcher

      Re: Good grief.

      I was told, when working for a software house, that I as being radical when I said - Don't ask users what they want, ask them what they do and give them what they need. Seems simple enough to me.

      1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

        Re: Good grief.

        The old story, there is

        - want

        - need

        - ask for

        - get

        the important thing is achieving the correct balance. One of the problems is that both politicians and many civil servants seem to believe that software is infinitely flexible - in the way for example, that stem trains of previous generation were not. And they act in this belief. Unfortunately other large procurement projects - yes MOD we are looking at you - have taken the same approach with predictable results (carriers san aircraft, another boondoggle for large manufacturing companies who are 'innovation constrained')

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Good grief.

      >why did they not find out what the systems were for and who used them.

      Yes, as observed in the article "knowing who uses a system and why is a basic of requirements analysis." However, this is forgetting that we are talking about trendy web developers, so everything is "Agile", so don't need to do a full requirements analysis, just do a little so you can implement the core of one use case, because you can do some more analysis on the next iteration...

      There is a time and place for Agile approaches, the real art is knowing when...

  7. Ilmarinen
    FAIL

    Phnaar...

    Clicking on their silly "random" link, I see that they are still using "that logo" bottom left on all the .gov.uk pages.

    What a bunch of W**kers.

  8. Trollslayer Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    I just looked

    and it isn't good enough to be called crap.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hardly surprising

    I had an interview with the CCTA back in the 80s. Not only did they not have a clue. They didn't want one either.

    As I walked out, I vowed to myself to never, ever, ever get involved in any form of government IT.

    Seems most of my peers did too.

  10. Paul 25

    Interesting counterpoint to all the koolaid

    Working in the web industry I see GDS frequently get held up as a paragon of how to "do it right", interesting to see the other side from time to time.

    It's depressing that arrogance and hubris still seems to be the major issue in so many so called revolutions like this. So often, in complex domains, the new kids ignore the old guard and end up reaping the result, missing essential information and processes because of a focus on the wrong users. It's not just government, we've seen it time and again in the corporate world where some new management team comes in and shakes things up, thinking they know best.

    It's a shame really as I think the original idea, to bring all this stuff together in one place, with one system, is still fundamentally sound, but GDS clearly got carried away and underestimated the complexity of the domain.

    I quite like what I've seen of gov.uk, but I have pretty simple interactions with it, so it's easy to miss what's not there if you are not looking for it.

    1. RW

      Re: Interesting counterpoint to all the koolaid

      "the new kids ignore the old guard"

      Target, the American department store chain, is completely withdrawing from the Canadian market after only two years. One analysis of this multi-billion dollar fiasco pointed out that when they bought the Zellers chain, they completely disregarded Zellers management. Sure, Zellers was a failing business, but I'm pretty sure management nonetheless had a pretty good grasp on what Canadians bought.

      The result was like a very bad joke: empty shelves; no checkouts at many exits, and of those they did have, many were non-functional self-checkout stations. Nice way to persuade customers to simply abandon their shopping carts.

      My own observations included a long aisle supposedly devoted to kitchen gadgetry with many, many hooks protruding from pegboard - with half the hooks empty and the other hooks each holding one spatula, all exactly the same. And their food department sold nothing you couldn't buy cheaper at even the smallest corner store.

      All due, one suspects, to hubris and a total disregard for the market they were entering. Just like GDS.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Interesting counterpoint to all the koolaid

      "It's a shame really as I think the original idea, to bring all this stuff together in one place, with one system, is still fundamentally sound"

      Depends upon what you mean by "together in one place"; Google (and other search engines do a very good job of bringing the disparate websites that form the Internet together in one place. I think GDS lost the plot when it thought it's job was more than simply acting as a common unifying portal to all the disparate gov.uk websites.

    3. Wibble

      Re: Interesting counterpoint to all the koolaid

      Like the new met office website. Stupid kids pulling the wool over the eyes of the crusty managers.

      Result is millions spent and an utterly unusable website.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fire all the people in charge, now.

    I don't know who's in charge of the process, but I'm going to bet it's not the designers, who would start by finding out who the various users of the old sites were and all the things that the sites were delivering to the various users.

    (And since those in charge made all their designers be coders:

    > https://designnotes.blog.gov.uk/2014/10/13/how-designers-prototype-at-gds/

    I feel doubly confident.)

    Sounds like some Techs in charge chose instead to go Agile (massively inappropriate for a conversion-type project), started knocking things up bit by bit, and got exactly what you would expect.

    Fire them all, please, they don't know what they're doing.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Fire all the people in charge, now.

      And since those in charge made all their designers be coders:

      Designers that code?

      Go to check that link.

      They "code" in HTML and CSS.

      kill me now.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Using Google Analytics too,

    Sorry but what about confidentiality and all that?

    Total FAIL.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      One of our recent web applications for customers runs in a limited access network.

      The site designer said the reporting wasn't working, asked what he was using, he said Google Analytics, we said denied.

      Asked what to use instead, we said whatever functionality was contained within IE, nothing was passing data out to the internet and certainly not to Google.

      He said, he will talk to management, we said fine.

      Management came back to us, we said no.

      Management insisted

      We spoke to internal security.

      Internal Security said - Denied

      They went and done it differently :)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hahahaha

      You don't the half of it. It's not just the analytics most of gov.uk is Google hosted now, and all @digital.[whatever].gov.uk emails are in GMail.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Evidence

        Pretty sure that's cobblers about gov.uk. Pre prod is on Carrenza and prod on Skyscape. Not sure who the CDN is.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Presentation layer people.

    "destroying useful online services and replacing them with trendily-designed webpages bereft of useful information."

    It's what they do best - not just in .gov.uk, but everywhere they are allowed their unsupervised freedom.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Interesting article.

    Does anyone here have any other examples of websites, perhaps in the private sector, that have also recently gone through a phase of pointless, badly thought out and unwanted rebranding, leading to frustrated, irritated and alienated long-term users?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Any telco that's ever existed.

      You want more?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The BBC News home page is trialling a new format of that ilk.

    3. Lyndon Hills 1

      Upvoted as funny

      not because the new design upsets me particularly

    4. CN Hill

      The Guardian.

    5. frank ly Silver badge

      @SRS

      Paypal went big/modern/simple some time in the recent past, but thank goodness they had a link that took you to the original style site. I assume that was the sort of example you were looking for ;)

    6. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      You need a picture at the top.

    7. Almost Me
      Black Helicopters

      Canada following suit.. is it a global conspiracy?

      The government of Canada is busy doing the same thing. The Environment Canada weather website is so busy telling us how wonderful the government is, all the government services available, and how we can all apply for government jobs, that on mobile phones it pushes the actual weather forecast well below the fold.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Canada following suit.. is it a global conspiracy?

        After gov.uk was hyped up by so many as a "good example" (usually by people with good connections to the team responsible for the project or at least with good hopes to be hired by them for outrageous daily fees) a lot of other governments thought they have to follow the same principles.

        Heck, you won't hear me joining the "Anti-EU" crowd, but the European Commission was (is?) trying to do the same thing and the results are also comparable. Their new web site is a disgrace and a hell of a waste of taxpayers' money. The best I can say about it is that the new "social media" icons are nicer than the old ones... :-/

    8. AlanC

      Sometime last year, Tesco online shopping replaced a site that worked well with a redesign that wastes huge amounts of space so that search results and similar now only display about 5 items at a time. This is on a retina Macbook, so screen resolution certainly isn't an issue, And it isn't helped by using the browser's zoom feature to make everything smaller - somehow it adapts and wastes even more space. And it's equally (though not identically) bad in all three browsers I have: Chrome, Safari and Firefox. I've complained more than once but had no response.

      NatWest has now redesigned their online banking site - it's full of ridiculously large fonts and wasted space but to be fair otherwise it works much as before, so it's not nearly as bad as Tesco. Mainly I just don't like the childish look it now has.

    9. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

      > Does anyone here have any other examples of websites, that have also recently gone through a phase of pointless, badly thought out and unwanted rebranding, leading to frustrated, irritated and alienated long-term users?

      The only one I know of inthe private sector is El Reg. I think the present schem,e is crap but it still works. That is more than I can say for government agencies in Britain and America such as the MetOffice and Smithsonian.

      I tried to add that they crapped out at the Smithsonian in their advert on Wikipedia but my edit was scrapped with no explanation. Most of the data on these agencies has been javascripted at. If not downright Adobified. But the government one has always been a site that sends you round in ever decreasing circles, like a plot in a Victorian East European novel.

      I had an idea about poor security but I didn't realise how bad it might be.

    10. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      N********a University.

      Depressingly familiar...new management hired a trendy 'digital agency' for £100k who couldn't even spell 'University' - then got rid of the skilled web staff and banned any 'negative comments on social media'...

      https://flic.kr/p/re1rCS

    11. Wibble

      Met office

  15. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Entertainers and sports stars were unable to enter the UK."

    So it's not all bad.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's what I was thinking.

  16. gnasher729 Silver badge

    As a software developer, I have often been told that software developers are no good at user interface design. This smells seriously like the work of excellent user interface designers. With no brain to understand what their website is actually supposed to achieve.

  17. Lost In Clouds of Data
    Paris Hilton

    Is anyone surprised?

    From the moment Martha put her head in the lions mouth that was UK Gov PLC, it was all but guaranteed misery and disaster would be her close bedfellows.

    Government IT only works in small doses. The very idea that you could encompass the width and breadth of all that is now Gov.UK under one single entity was enough to tell even the dimmest of the political wonks that this was going to be one hell of a spectacular fuck up.

    Add in whole departments who now feel they're fireproof and you have what at least will serve as an example for future generations on how not to run an IT project.

    /Paris (again, gotta love me some Paris) because she's probably got a better idea on how to do this than all the Cabinet Office combined...

    1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

      Re: Is anyone surprised?

      Shureky Paris cos she has more idea than Martha about acheiving anytbung other than personal success?

  18. kmac499

    Design Guru's breaking websites

    Design Guru's wrecking websites. Now where have we heard that story recently.....???

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Devil

      Re: Design Guru's breaking websites

      I know! I know! I know!

  19. SImon Hobson Silver badge

    Couldn't agree more

    It seems to me that pretty well all of the new site is designed to look pretty while doing nothing.

    For different reasons I've been looking for information on different parts of the site. "Painful" just does not describe how crap it is to use.

    As to the comment about email vs forms etc. One part I accessed has, at the bottom of their contact page, an email address to contact them. So I emailed all the key information needed to start off a process - and got an email back to say "phone us". What is the ****ing point of giving an email address that "doesn't work" ? "Doesn't work" meaning that using it won't actually get you anywhere and you'll still have to give all the information to someone over the phone.

    Mind you, the old DVLA site also had issues. Pages and pages of stuff about what you needed for this and that - but without links to the actual legislation, not even mention of what act covers that snippet of life. Thus making it "quite hard" to track down the actual legislation which is often subtly different from the DVLA interpretation of it.

  20. Nick London
    FAIL

    Useless

    The new system is useless. You used to be able to find lots of useful technical advice on the Environment Agencies web site but it is not to be found any more on .gov.uk

    Whilst if you know what you are looking for legacy pages can be accessed I don't believe they are being kept currant.

    And whilst I am ranting why doesn't the .legistation.gov.uk keep the legislation up to date with amendments. Some regulations have hundreds of amendments.

    1. D.A.

      Re: Useless

      "Whilst if you know what you are looking for legacy pages can be accessed I don't believe they are being kept currant."

      There must be a good raisin for that,

  21. Russell Jackson

    DWP

    Have spent the last three weeks trying to sort out my mothers pension with the DWP, unfortunately you cannot refer to the .GOV website as it has no content, just some pretty buttons.

    When you call they can't really help either, all of the legislation is no longer linked and highlighted on the site, so asking for a reason why just gets a Judge Dread style It's the LAW.

    Although they do try to get you to call Citizens advice, who will tell you that they don't do pensions advice.

    If I cant work it out how then the average pensioner has a whelks chance in a supernova.

    1. Red Bren

      Re: DWP

      > If I cant work it out how then the average pensioner has a whelks chance in a supernova

      Isn't that the point of these redesigns? Make it as difficult as possible for people to claim what they're entitled to, so they die off and stop being a burden on the state?

  22. gerryg

    Something the government got right, a history lesson

    gov.uk is yet another example of wishful thinking leading to vanity publishing disguised as transformation and thought leadership.

    Branding remains firmly in the mind of the beholder, whatever lipstick you put on a pig.

    However government did get something spectacularly right, but they couldn't cope with the branding they saw so they scrapped it.

    Back in the days of Inland Revenue, (a brand so strong that even today, some 12 years after it disappeared, you can still hear HMRC being called that) they developed (in-house for about 50p, according to someone) Hector the Tax Inspector - homage to everyone's image of a civil servant, complete with little briefcase.

    The "brand" was scrapped for internal vanity reasons despite it being an effective communication tool. (example)

    Although Hector "died" in 2001 he survived in articles about taxation long after - last seen by me in about 2012. (example)

    And therein lies the counterfactual with all this online glitz and glam - it you want to produce fluff bathed in incense while listening to whalesong - the El Reg Consulting Boutique might have vacancies but that's not what effective delivery of public services is all about.

  23. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    FAIL

    f**king useless search function.

    If your in a departments page you'd probably want to search that departments back pages, yes?

    Apparently not.

    TBF some of this is the front end to mainframe systems that most of these little darlings know f**k all about and would not understand if it was explained to them.

  24. cmannett85

    “We are Agile”

    Whenever this is said, bad things ensue.

    1. Lysenko

      “We are Agile”

      ...so are Gibbons.

  25. Indolent Wretch

    My random page was this:

    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/request-to-extend-a-prescribed-time-limit

    Time how long it takes you to work out what the page is actually about.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I see.

      I followed the link, and I can tell what the form's for, but I cannot understand why the references to other forms and laws aren't links to said forms and laws.

    2. Rosie Davies

      I could have measured my "time to cerebral alignment" metric (or understanding WTF the form was about) but they have a feedback link! Happy joy for the feedback link. Everyone should use the feedback link, especially whilst channelling James Joyce.

      Disgusted of Middlesex.

    3. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      In this case about 30 seconds - do I win?

  26. Lallabalalla

    This makes me really angry. Why?

    Because it's us that is paying for these Utter Hoxtons to bugger everything up and ruin people's lives. Gaah!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This makes me really angry. Why?

      Upvote for 'these Utter Hoxtons' - a fantastic phrase I've never read before.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Agile everything

    Having worked as a contractor on the initial Gov.uk round of role outs the Agile everything approach is a particularly memorable piece of insanity.

    As they iterated content's tone of voice and the style, every peace of work a stakeholders produced in the department I was working in had to be redrafted weekly as a GDS content designer - no joke, that's what they call editors- iterated to a new definition of plain English.

    When we asked if we could just create a draft when the style was finished, so busy people could just get on with their actual jobs, we were looked at with amazement and told to not iterate wasn't agile.

    Anon for obvious reasons

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Agile everything

      RITALINAGILE.

    2. Caoilte

      Re: Agile everything

      'Peace of work' - my main problem is that they hired contractors.

  28. Jpong

    I can't say as I've used shedloads of government websites in my time, but I'm finding it hard to believe there's anything worth keeping on the HMRC site.

    1. jonathanb Silver badge

      If you work in tax, there was loads of very useful information on the hmrc.gov.uk website.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        And if you're a typical small business owner trying to run a payroll, it was the biggest pile of shite ever created. Guess we don't count as users to "tax professionals," huh? Or even better, to software developers who like to make tax software vanity projects?

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They're not all idiots, but ...

    I have had dealings with GDS. They're not all idiots, but they do have enough of them to poison both their work and their image. Imagine our delight when after describing a legacy system comprising over a million line of code and thousands of lines of SQL the 12 year old suggested replacing it with an iPhone app. He and his team were hurt when we laughed, then confused when we explained why, what with throughout, user base, capacity and security to consider that it might not be a good candidate for that approach.

    1. pig

      Re: They're not all idiots, but ...

      "the 12 year old suggested replacing it with an iPhone app. He and his team were hurt when we laughed"

      LMAO. Digital Dan by any chance?

      The sad thing is that group of shysters actually believe that their solutions will/can/do work. They seem to be hard wired into thinking everyone they talk to is just over complicating things and a shitty iPhone ap with a catchy name and a picture taking up all the real estate on the screen is what people want.

      What Whitehall needs is a trap door system so that whenever someone says "Agile" the floor opens and they are deposited to some pit, where the only way to exit is via an iPhone ap that doesn't have the exit button yet as that is tricky and has been put off to a sprint that will never actually happen.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "[...] one BBC reporter speculated that the transition might be a sophisticated attempt to cripple the UK, [...]"

    Not that the BBC are innocent of charges of spoiling their UK web site. The other day I was redirected to their "new format" home page. Basically a cluttered whitespace and picture rich page - with not much in the way of informative text.

    Gave them the feedback for which they asked - all "1"s for the format features. No doubt like all their other page revamps they will bring the new format into play without any significant changes.

    Still - at least El Reg has now taught me how to use userContent.css in FireFox to get a format that is readable.

    1. Hollerith 1

      Agree--new BBC is a heart-sinker

      I had a gander at the new BC site and noticed, amonst many other stupidities, that you can no longer go down to a 'Technology' or 'Science' area and see those stories, but have to sift through the jumble of news to spot the little tags that say 'science'. So more work for the uder! I already hate the section 'The Explainers' -- could this be more condenscending?

      The new move to a gigantic image at the top of the page, which forces you to scroll at once to find somehing to do, is sweeping the interent. Websites that are one long, long scrolling page, with sections you jump to when you use the menu, are another seriosu pain. I guess this is good for phones and tablets? I am a user-interface person, but from the old school, where the first question one asks is: who uses this site and how can it be made best for them? The pretty layout comes after.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Agree--new BBC is a heart-sinker

        The guardian ran a story about BBC's news coverage yesterday - and pointed out just how bad it is.

        It's saddening when Al Jazeera actually provides more and indepth coverage of actual news (vs fluff) than the BBC does.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: Agree--new BBC is a heart-sinker

          It's saddening when Al Jazeera actually provides more and indepth coverage of actual news

          I don't see how that is saddening. It has also been the case since the Bush II Iraqi pratfall now.

          If the US goes to the the length to find the exact hotel room through which a tank projectile shall be "accidentally" lobbed or bothers to blow a marked journalist team off a Baghdad roof by JDAM they must be doing something right.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    having worked at the cabinet office...

    ... during the days the GDS was announced first, i can confirm there was a whole bunch of marketing/management bullshit floating around about what it was. at one particular presentation we were given some paper discs that had one of those infographics printed on them - filled with completely meaningless buzzwords and colourful shapes with no discernible meaning or process to clarify what GDS was supposed to be.

    it really was one of the biggest piles of shite i'd ever seen. and as a consultant, i've seen (and presented) a fair few in my time.

  32. Timmy B Silver badge
    WTF?

    Yep - it's terrible

    I spend most of my time writing Payroll software. The old HMRC site was brilliant. You had a big section for all the stuff you may want to know - it's like they listened and made it easy. The new site makes me think that they are deliberately trying to annoy me!! Information I used to have easily to hand is now obtainable by GUESSING and editing links to other information! Some of our support staff just gave up sating that information they need to do their jobs doesn't exist any more. I've had to make a mini HMRC page that's links to all we need to know.

    Still it looks nice - oh hang on - it looks terrible - huge text, wasted space, horrible colour scheme.

    1. Pellinor

      Re: Yep - it's terrible

      Exactly my experience, as a tax advisor. Luckily I have all the paid-for reference services as well as the old free HMRC ones, but it was nice to be able to see what HMRC think about things too.

      The problem with the tax pages is that they've been written to be used by someone with simple tax affairs who doesn't know much about them - lowest common denominator. Anyone with complex affairs, or who wants the legislative back-up, or who simply knows what they're talking about and needs a bit more detail, just isn't considered.

      Gov.uk looks like someone designed templates - a few headings, and no more than 100 words per page - and then told people to fit the information into them. Procrustean - form driving function :-(

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Yep - it's terrible

        Upvote for Procrustean.

      2. J P

        Re: Yep - it's terrible

        Another tax user here - and one who also has to find stuff in other jurisdictions - the other day it was EU, Ghana, Singapore & Uganda. I found all the legislation I needed on the relevant sites; little bit of URL juggling required, but nothing tricky.

        The next day, I needed to get a copy of an HMRC document which I knew, *KNEW*, existed as part of their budget output (I had a paper copy). Took me longer than finding a 50 year old Ugandan statute. The ordering of information is just bewildering. The search function is appalling. (Maybe that's what the "random page" generator is for? Has anyone checked to see if the traditional search link is still there?) How can they have taken something which used to work and made it so, so awful?

        I've given up on putting detail into the "what's wrong with this page" dialogues and just point out that it's rubbish. Won't make any difference to GOV.UK, but helps keep my blood pressure just a little bit lower. And sadly, it's not necessarily helpful even if your affairs are relatively simple - see the list of gems here: http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/containing/1796280

    2. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Yep - it's terrible

      Huge text is indeed a scourge. However, it's often accompanied by tiny text. I have minimum font sizes set in my browser to make them readable, but the page designs can't handle that and mangle all the formatting.

  33. Richard Jones 1
    WTF?

    Specification, User Requirements, Objective

    I guess that those were just some of the many words that the fluffy types did not understand as they are not fluffy enough.

    How about finding out what is thought to be needed and what is thought to be done, testing the basic tenets and producing a testable specification of how it will be delivered. Then doing acceptance testing where some skilled and totally unskilled users are set lose on the project to see what breaks? Whatever you do in this phase do NOT use those who 'understand the new system'. I often used the clerks from accounts to simulate ordinary users when I did such work in the (increasingly distant) past.

    As a text book study in advanced project destruction this does appear to have been a master class.

    To think I was rung a couple of weeks ago about my experience of a paper based system they wanted to bring on line - Inheritance tax if you are interested.

    Currently something between 50 and one hundred pages, perhaps more are involved though not all pages require an entry Comprising more than a dozen sets of data gathering that should all cross relate.

    Just imagine sitting down and trying to do that lot 'live on screen'. They were shocked that I said I needed a paper copy of each stage to verify entries before moving on and that cross checking was essential before submission. Frankly electronic recording would be good - the papers I produced visited most of the offices run by HMRC, Each time going by post, England, Scotland Northern Ireland and Wales all became involved. An electronic transfer would have been magic but given the track record recorded in the account it will never be possible

  34. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    Random observations

    Revolution not evolution sounds like the answer to "How do you guarantee failure in a software project?"

    hinderance Leisa Reichelt, the GDS "head of research" should avoid using words she can't spell.

    fashionable “digital” magic There's currently a public-sector body recruiting "digital Java developers". The phrase appears in listings by several agents, so it must originate with the client. I won't apply, as I'm just an analogue developer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Random observations

      That reminds me of the purchasing department of the ex-government institution I used to work for.

      Me: "I want to buy some software"

      Purchasing person, suspiciously after long pause "is that for a computer?"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Kubla Cant - Re: Random observations

      'hinderance Leisa Reichelt, the GDS "head of research" should avoid using words she can't spell.'

      Well she can't even spell Lisa, so not much hope there...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Random observations

      > hinderance - Leisa Reichelt, the GDS "head of research" should avoid using words she can't spell.

      http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/hinderance

      http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hinderance

      http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/hinderance

      https://www.wordnik.com/words/hinderance

      Perhaps you should avoid making comments you haven't researched?

  35. Spiff66

    I see your problem

    "Poor design and chaotic management by the supposedly crack team at the Cabinet Office's Government Digital Service (GDS) left huge swathes of the British government in disarray"

    Poor design and chaotic management by the on crack team at the Cabinet Office's Government Digital Service (GDS) left huge swathes of the British government in disarray

    Fixed it for you

    1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

      Re: I see your problem

      I appreciate the 'left' - correctly implies no change in state

  36. this

    Where is the graphic from?

    Where is the graphic that heads this article from? I can't see anything like that on gov.uk.

    I just visited the site, spurred by this article, and er, it didn't really seem too 'shiny'. Quite clear, really.

    Admittedly at first sight, it seems quite useable. Obviously I'm not 'corporate' and didn't have any real business to do so it's not a thorough test.

    Anyway, where is that graphic from - am I looking at the same site?

    1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

      Re: Where is the graphic from?

      Bust surely is you have 'no real business' to do then you can't possibly understand whether it is of any value? Or is it just the interface to any system that concerns you?

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As a supplier that has to 'compete' with GDS on many tenders this really winds me up.

    If it was us who delivered something so wide of the mark we'd all be out of a job. That GDS seem to be unaccountable is frankly unacceptable, but sadly not surprising.

  38. Compression Artifact
    Stop

    "trendily-designed webpages bereft of useful information"

    "The disclosures paint a picture that contradicts the public image of supremely confident digital gurus modernising the British government's many websites, and making them more efficient."

    Indeed, "modernising," "websites" and "efficient" are three concepts that don't fit together in the same sentence. Across the internet, the average web page with a few kilobytes of useful information is now said to be over a megabyte.

    Occasionally I'll stumble across an ancient web site (usually someone's personal site) that is not 99.8% crap and that actually follows recommendations for usability, portability and accessibility simply by keeping it simple. Most of these look like they were made by techies who simply wanted to exchange information.

    I think much of the problem is that nowadays anyone with a word processor and a screen big enough to compose wall posters fancies themself a web designer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "trendily-designed webpages bereft of useful information"

      Websites designed by techies - that would be the entire legacy of Microsoft, wouldn't it?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: "trendily-designed webpages bereft of useful information"

        LOLNO.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Coat

      Re: "trendily-designed webpages bereft of useful information"

      Stergons Law (sorry i cant spell) "90% of everything is Carp"

  39. Tom 38 Silver badge

    Sympathy for the devil

    NB: I don't work for GDS!

    These sorts of projects inevitably have these sorts of reactions. The project is a simplification project - take all the shit on 300 websites, condense it down to one standard and get rid of all the useless crap.

    There are two ways you can do this,

    1) you can spend many many years enumerating what all the useless crap is, design a system that encapsulates all the needs of those 300 systems, work out a fully complete plan to move it all over, and execute those plans.

    2) work out the rough basis of what is required, the "minimal marketable features", implement them, handle whatever fallout there is, improving the new system to the point where it works.

    Clearly they went with option 2, its "agile", and its much quicker to initial delivery.

    With option 1, you should get a lot less of these issues, but this is not what has happened historically in government IT. By trying to cover everything, requirements grow to the point where the project is a massive behemoth that can only be tackled by one of the usual outsourcing suspects, and often has requirements that differ wildly to the point that the project may not be possible to be delivered.

    So, they went with option 2 - its the cheap option, we're a cheap country, we have to put up with the cheap implementation. If they are truly agile however, they should now be identifying all these new user stories that they need to implement, and continuously improve the site until it does do what is required.

    With agile, the proof of the pudding is not in the eating; invariably with agile it will taste like shit first off, but it should mature in to something suitable for purpose.

    1. timblackwell

      Re: Sympathy for the devil

      I partly agree with you - I think the article goes a bit too far, but...

      there are two basic problems with .GOV.UK:

      - from my own experience of it the content aimed at the general public has been absolutely riddled with errors (and it's become clear that GDS content designers have been at least in large part responsible - if the truth doesn't match the stylebook, so much the worse for the truth)

      - departmental content for specialist users (by which I mean anyone whose engagement with government amounts to more than simple one off transactions), has been dumped without thought to structure or context. Things which had an organized and recognisable structure have been re-published as linear lists of .PDFs.

      A long, long time ago, the GDS talked about services so good that people would prefer to use them. They could have tried to do just that - make their own versions of one or two Departmental sites whilst keeping the originals going. GDS could then have iterated to their hearts content. If the time came when the public had overwhelmlingly voted with their feet to use the GDS offering (and not as a result of SEO shenanigans), the old sites could have been turned off.

      It's hard to be persuaded that something is eventually going to be good when what you're given is so markedly inferior to what came before *and* the people involved appear to have little interest in making it better, or even understanding that there is a problem.

    2. Lysenko

      Re: Sympathy for the devil

      "There are two ways you can do this,"

      No, that's a false dichotomy. You do not have to choose between full Waterfall/PRINCE or Agile/SCRUM/Twister/Bingo.

      Sites like HMRC and Visa applications are safety critical systems. People could end up being prosecuted, fined, gaoled or injured (psychologically - e.g. you missed your mums funeral) if they screw things up. Iteration in a production envirgonment with such systems is absolutely unacceptable and anyone suggesting otherwise (using the word "Agile") should be fired on the spot.

      By all means have a few web monkeys (very "Agile" creatures) around the place, but putting them in charge? Madness. You do not let the guy styling the body shell dictate the engineering. Sexy styling may sell the car, but irrespective of that the brakes have to work from day one, no exceptions. The project lead has to be someone who realises that the engineering is always core (and that HTML is not a programming language).

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Sympathy for the devil

      "continuously improve the site until it does do what is required."

      OK, let's do a thought experiment.

      As an alternative to consulting your doctor you go to a health advice site looking for advice on some symptoms you have.

      You get the first iteration. I tells you you have nothing to worry about.

      The next iteration would have asked some more questions and identified a few possible complications.

      The final iteration would have asked you even more questions and identified that you have an uncommon but very serious illness and should contact your doctor immediately.

      Unfortunately having had the misleading advice that the first version gave you you didn't get in touch with your doctor and didn't live to get the advice you needed.

      Was the agile-developed site useful to you?

      1. Roland6 Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Sympathy for the devil

        >Was the agile-developed site useful to you?

        Don't know about the patient - they are either dead or made a full recovery without involving a doctor or hospital. But yes the site was useful; it helped to keep waiting lists down so that others could use the NHS!

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sympathy for the devil

      That's all very well for something selling handbags, but not exactly a strategy when dealing with things that have massive impact on a person's life. Suppose your Doctor went "Agile" in this way.

      "Sorry your Mum dies, we'll take your user story and improve it in the next iteration"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sympathy for the devil

        Suppose your Doctor went "Agile" in this way.

        "Sorry your Mum dies, we'll take your user story and improve it in the next iteration"

        Clearly you have never heard of M&M committees, because this is exactly how doctors operate.

    5. harry1867
      Thumb Down

      Re: Sympathy for the devil

      False Assumptions:

      #1 Things you do not understand in 5 seconds are shit

      #2 One size fits all

      #3 Agile is gods gift to system development (sheesh)

      #4 Crap rushed out the door is ever any good

      What a ridiculous post. Clearly drinking the koolaid.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apart from making 16point Comic Sans the default font for HMG web-sites, nothing much else was achieved.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where's the bit about about...

    ...GDS carefully studying the existing sites and making sure they fully understood the functionality they were required to reproduce, then checking their understanding of those requirements with the departments involved? If that didn't happen why aren't their management being forced to stand in stress positions and being prodded with sticks?

  42. timblackwell

    It's from an earlier version of the site. The icons, peculiar and utterly opaque, were quickly abandoned

    http://web.archive.org/web/20120717045455/https://www.gov.uk/

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    None of this surprises me. Worked in Gov IT for 4 years in the 1990's, it was a horrible mish-mash of IBM/ICL systems. Replacements and upgrades of systems would take 18 months to do, never work and take at least another 6 months of bug fixing to make the system almost as usable as the one it replaced. I left and managed to find work in the financial sector, it's more hard work but the money is never spent unless there is some basic assurance of success, managers and minions bonuses depend on project X working to a basic pre-agreed standard. Manage to simply turn up, washed and dressed and you get money thrown at you in Gov IT!

  44. Elephantpm
    WTF?

    Businesslink was too expensive - because of user testing!

    I worked doing requirements analysis for Businesslink.gov. Businesslink was very expensive because we had professional requirements analysts, information architects and and content authors. We did a lot of user testing with real users.

    We created a brilliant website that really worked well.

    I have been managing projects for clients for about 20 years and I am a great fan of SCRUM but Agile is really not suited for Government work because managing stakeholder relationships is hard and the lazy requirements gathering is not acceptable. Funnily enough HMG actually has a suitable project management system. It is called PRINCE2 and is a global standard.

    Here is my "told you so"

    http://blog.jamesbayley.com/2012/10/23/we-should-mourn-businesslink-gov-uk-because-uk-gov-is-crap/

  45. x 7

    Martha Lane Fox????

    I totally fail to understand the involvement of Martha Lane Fox and similar others? What are her past achievements which suit her for the role? Does launching a dot.com bubble company that soaked up a lot of cash to create a customer facing website with minimal content count???? I guess there are similarities.....I hope that uk.gov can't go bust though, unlike her previous fuckups.

    "lasttravel.com"???? now we have "lastgov.com" about to implode in the same way.....

  46. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    "The disclosures paint a picture that contradicts the public image of supremely confident digital gurus modernising the British government's many websites, and making them more efficient."

    I don't think it does contradict it. These digital (not really) gurus WERE supremely confident -- but confidence doesn't mean competence, it doesn't mean they know what they are doing! That is in fact the cause of so much problems, they were so confident they didn't need to know what the sites actually need to DO, just how they should look.

    It reminds me of what Microsoft did with 1) Office ribbon UI and 2) Windows 8, where they just did not listen to customers, due to being ever so confident that they know what they are doing and people will just have to get used to whatever they implement.

    Actually, nematoad sums it up well enough I'll quote him:

    "To me it looks like the GDS have recruited people with the same mind-set as those who developed, if that is the term, MS's Metro and Canonical's Unity. They seem to be arrogant know-it-alls who are so in love with their "vision" that practicality and the the needs of the clients is ignored in pursuit of showing off their so-called design skills. Remember form follows function. A pickaxe with a nice bendy handle might look different but probably won't do the job it was supposed to do."

    1. tony2heads

      Dunning-Kruger effect strikes again

      Confident does not equal Competent. Very often it is the opposite

  47. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    I should note healthcare.gov is just as bad

    I should note healthcare.gov is (I think) just as bad. I never did get it to work. now I'm going to (when I have time!) call them to get my account deleted, since I assume it's also insecure.

    So, it went around in a loop over and over, while I tried to sign up. It would not format my street address properly, and each time it implied I could continue, it'd loop to the beginning of the sign up. Each time, it forgot about 1/3rd of the answers for various questions, while remembering the rest. It does that trendy one huge question on the screen, then "unhiding" the next (even though it's basically 10 or 15 questions in a web form on each page), so you can't just tab through like you're supposed to be able to do if they hadn't decided to make it al "trendy" looking. It has a "step bar" showing steps 1 through 6 on the left but you can't click on it to go forward or back.

    It was unable to verify my identity, the phone number it gave could not verify my identity, the phone number THEY gave could not verify my identity but apparently unlocked my account anyway (this of course makes it pointless to have them verify your identity if someone on the phone is just going to override the security, I should note without even asking any of the security questions I had supplied answers to.) It then decided the ~$32/month insurance was going to cost like $225 a month. I tried to go back to withdraw my application since I'm not about to pay that for insurance. It then decided again it could verify my identity, and eventually flashed up a window, closed it, then said they would review the 0 documents I had sent (this was apparently supposed to let me submit a scan of a drivers license or other ID). It then would not allow me to do ANYTHING else while they "review" this non-existant document I didn't send (no option to re-send it or continue.) Part of the site claims they will still send me that $225 bill, the other part implies they won't (I'm not paying a penny if I get it, since I cancelled it.)

    Oh and they think I'm going to pay a "not a tax" tax penalty for not signing up through this crap! All I can say, I've never signed up for any monetary assistance before.. but if the feds are going to go beyond taxation and try to tell me what to do with my own money, I'm signing up for as many assistance programs as possible, so they can just be telling me how to spend *their* money instead.

  48. TeeCee Gold badge
    Facepalm

    My, what a surprise!

    Not just government, happens everywhere.

    If you let individual units build web bits for themselves, you end up with a lot of cheapish, simple, yet highly functional pages[1] that are tailored to individual requirements. Trouble is they don't match and integrate seamlessly, which the web guru and PR types really hate.

    If you put all your web shit under one unit you end up with something that has consistant look 'n feel, navigation and such throughout, is very pretty to look at, but costs a bomb and is utterly f***ing useless.

    The government does seem to have wasted more cash doing the latter than most do though.

    [1] In all the documents used in the second strategy, these are now called "portals".

  49. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Silver lining

    "Entertainers and sports stars were unable to enter the UK."

  50. Doug Bostrom

    It's comforting to think that as with so much of what Andrew has written on other subjects, this article is probably not worth worrying about.

    Or is it? How can we tell?

  51. D Moss Esq

    GDS's response to criticism

    "... in the information technology age, a government website really matters" – so said Liz Fisher of the UK Constitutional Law Association on 9 May 2013 at the end of a blog post about GOV.UK, which she found to be flippant.

    There was no response to her criticisms from GDS. The party line, laid down on 19 July 2012 was: "Not feeding trolls is the biggest sign of the strength of our culture".

    That hasn't changed, 18 February 2015: "Colleagues, not feeding trolls continues to be sound advice".

    So much for understanding just how much the government website really matters.

  52. James Anderson

    Symptom of a much deeper problem.

    One of Thatcher's many innovations was to rope in "volunteer"s from advertising agencies to design and manage her election campaign. These professional ad-slingers were richly rewarded as government spending on publicity increased twenty fold during her reign.

    Messers Blair and Madelson were quick to see the benefits of this system. You get elected, you get invited to smart dinner parties and you get to chat with amusing well dressed people who went to the same schools as you did. They also extend the concept by giving "volunteer" marketing and media types plum jobs once they got elected.

    The end result is we have a government and civil service that is entirely centered on image, spin and buzzwords; but totally incapable of dealing with reality.

    And they wonder why a flake like Farage looks attractive to voters -- sadly he looks more capable than they do.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Symptom of a much deeper problem.

      +1 for The Truth

  53. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Immigration pot calls cabinet office kettle black

    They're still forcing people to use 0845 and 0870 numbers more than a year after being ordered to cease doing so - and the people answering the phone there will try and hide behind the fact that they work for g4s to avoid taking complaints

    That kind of car crash has little to do with the Cabinet Office.

  54. J J Carter Silver badge

    Which consultancy has the GDS boondoggle ?

  55. Potemkine Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Is GDS heavier than a duck?

    So are in charge gurus not listening to others, being overconfident to be so 'leet that the World should bend over to celebrate their Greatness and things go wrong? Astonishing...

    There was a time now gone for a long time when the people would have taken torches and pitchforks... maybe it could be reinstated as web 3.0, with a direct interaction between users and deciders?

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pretty harsh!

    Just to start off - I don't work for GDS!

    Personally, i've been pretty impressed with the work that GDS have done with GOV.uk. Looking through the internet archive of previous services, I can't see how it's not an improvement. I used to really struggle beforehand.

    I've also been involved in some of their user research as a participant and was impressed by their approach. Based on what i've seen the user need is definitely being considered.

    I'm not saying that it's perfect by any stretch but it's a pretty massive task to undertake and I think they deserve some credit and not all this abuse! Any time anyone changes a service there's always reems of complainants. The biggest challenge i've always found is that people in the IT world that can't handle things not being designed their way and seem to obstruct a user centred design approach.

    At the same time, having visited GDS I do get reminded of the South Park episode where the smug San Franciscans smell their own farts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FAI_-woNh4

    1. timblackwell

      Re: Pretty harsh!

      Re: Pretty harsh!

      The criticism *is* harsh - and frankly a little overblown. I'm not a fan of the actually existing .GOV.UK, but I do think the idea of bringing IT expertise back into government is a good one.

      I'm perfectly prepared to believe that some services have been improved - GDS has some very bright people, like Richard Pope and, er, others. Leisa Reichelt has a smart and thoughtful blog - the tweet quoted by Andrew, though absolutely bloody infuriating read in isolation, does kind of make sense in the context she's working in (experts find it hard to uninhabit their own expertise).

      But when I get client calls like this:

      C: "Why are these figures in your application wrong?"

      Me: "I hope they're not. Which ones? Let me take a look."

      C: "The A,B,Cs - they should be X, Y and Z."

      Me: "Ah you're getting those from .GOV.UK - they have the wrong figures."

      C:"But that's the government saying those are the figures."

      Me: "I *know*. I'm sorry. They should have updated the figures in April, but instead they updated half the figures, mis-described some of the others and left out some altogether. You can find the correct figures on the parliament website or on legislation.gov.uk."

      C: "Oh."

      - and I talk to the relevant government department

      Me: "The A,B,C figures on .GOV.UK haven't been updated properly this year."

      GD: "We *know*. But since GDS took over our publishing, they decide how and when the site gets updated. They've been given editorial control."

      Me: "Oh."

      - it's all pretty dispiriting. And when you're repeatedly told how simply *marvellous* the whole thing is, it grates - fast.

  57. ppawel
    Devil

    "transition that saw more than 300 more domains move to the gov.uk übersite"

    Whoever greenlit this genius idea must be the spawn of Satan indeed!

    Anyone with *any* experience in IT projects would have told you that this had ZERO change of ending in anything less than COMPLETE DISASTER.

    Ah, the world we live in, eh?!

  58. securecomment

    I contributed in a very small way to Direct.gov in the last decade. That was also an attempt to put everything under one roof. All I remember is endless overpaid consultants trying to manage bickering and territorial civil servants from all the different departments forced to join in. They got the horrible orange coloured thing launched in the end. How ironic that the whole exercise has been repeated 10 years later. The difference then was that we were at least spared the digital wank that today's consultants clearly believe in. Case in point, Mike Bracken's "retrofuturism". hahahah!

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As Web dev who joined a new company last year I can confirm designers sometimes just don't know the right questions to ask (or how to write secure code) but then again I was crap at design before I started here.

    Now, the servers and sites are more protected than ever, the sites are looking better with more detailed content than ever before and my design work is now just mediocre so sometimes it's a case of getting those in the know to work with those who thing macbooks are the zenith of development platforms (give me a workstation grade lappy with a virty os's any day of the week).

  60. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Remember CCTA!

    The government HAD a competent internal computer consultancy in the 1980s. CCTA.

    This was closed down for political reasons. They were told what would happen as a result. They didn't listen....

  61. localzuk

    I don't understand the plan

    Why did it require everyone to move to one monolithic system?

    Why instead didn't it simply involve a new "style" framework being created, dictating page layouts, language choices, design ideals etc... which other departments then would've had to implement around their existing content?

    Doing it the way they did might work for a small business which merges with another small business, but doing it with a government, with hundreds of different departments and functions, with global reach, stakeholders in every sector of the population both internal to the country and external? That, quite frankly, is ridiculous.

    I simply can't see what the advantage ever would've been?

  62. x 7

    "Leisa Reichelt, the GDS "head of research""

    She sounds German to me. There you go, explains it all - bloody europeans still trying to drag us down

    More seriously, read her bollox bullshit comments here

    https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2013/08/30/how-we-do-user-research-in-agile-teams/#comments

    you'll have to expand the comments section........multicoloured friggin post it notes to record user responses....no wonder complaints get lost

    1. x 7

      and to quote her from https://userresearch.blog.gov.uk/2014/09/16/sample-size-and-confidence/

      "If you’re doing qualitative design research, don’t worry about sample size. Sample size and statistical significance don’t matter

      The only thing that matters is how confident your team is about the next decision they need to make"

      = ignore your user base and make your own arrogant arbitrary decisions

  63. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Agile is a way for managers to answer the questions "How long will this take", "Why has this taken so long" and "Why doesn't [xxx] work?" and because it is "their" tool, think they can dictate development process and procedure while giving developers the illusion that they are "taking ownership" and "driving development".

    Unfortunately the involvement of management and Agile guarantees that the time to make anything will be dramatically increased and that difficult core functionality can be hidden until the last minute behind abstract classes. Even better, by the time the difficult things are attempted it will become clear that some thought should have been given to the resulting issues before development even started, that to shoehorn them in is now virtually impossible and requires the whole system to be rewritten from scratch, so management can blame it all on the developers who, left to their own devices, would've just built the damn thing and then gone to lunch.

  64. Rupert Bowater

    User reserach lab

    Oh dear El Reg, I thought for a moment I was on the sainted Taxpayers' Alliance site when I read this: 'Spending on a lavish, high-tech “UX Lab” proceeded.'. The blog post you linked to earlier has, as its header image, a pic of a standard-issue, drab meeting room. loads of people crammed in, and sitting on chairs that look like they come from a school language lab (if they still have those). I daresay GDS spent a fair bit on AV kit and probably overcooked the video res (by their own admission) but it's hardly profligate?

  65. alanconnor

    Hmm.

    Has any IT project *not* met missed deadlines and transition snafus? It's a stretch to pretend that the old silos were wonderful. Onwards, gov.uk.

  66. MadMat

    Quite agog. The 'Government Gateway' core was, and still is, a fine example of a well run software project that delivers. At the time, it was On Budget, On Schedule and simply worked.

    Over 2 million lines of code and zero high/medium severity bugs from the start - despite implementing protocols that, at the time, were bleeding edge (SSO, SOAP etc...). It just got on with the job and did it well - even keeping o

    So what has happened since 2007ish. Why are we seeing headlines like these? What has happened to all the lessons learned and knowledge/skills built during the time Gateway was designed & developed? It almost breaks my heart to see son-of-Gateway being stuffed up so much - what is going on?

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