Te Papa changes tack to deliver their flagship website

By sarah in Agile Development on December 08, 2015

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Adrian Kingston final

We’re always keen to help our partners deliver better results, and we were delighted to be invited to run a workshop on Agile at the National Digital Forum – a conference on all things digital in the culture and heritage sector.

We’ve worked with a bunch of great organisations and folks in this sector, including Adrian Kingston from Te Papa. Catching up at the conference, we took the opportunity to get Adrian’s reflections on web development processes and shepherding organisational change.

A national museum, a national treasure, a complex online beast

Te Papa, as befits a cultural treasure and collection, doesn’t take changing its website lightly. As both the first impression of Te Papa for many visitors and a gateway to a vast storehouse of knowledge, the website has a lot to deliver.

The national museum has backed Agile to deliver their new website by February 2016. One of the core members of the team tasked to work on the project is Adrian Kingston.

Fourteen years at Te Papa and part of the Collections Information team, Adrian brought Agile to its business practices since returning from a nearly year-long secondment to the DigitalNZ project.

Transparency delivers better results

Te Papa’s decision to use Agile to develop its new website was both a trust and transparency thing, Adrian says. Senior management had seen Agile working successfully in small pockets across the organisation and were now willing to give a bigger project the chance to run with it.

“There’s a lot of goodwill and trust from others,” he says. “There’s genuine interest from people about whether Agile’s the right way to do it.”

He’s noticed increased transparency with Agile.“It’s a very open decision-making process. We’re participating in a fast, collaborative, user-focused development process; we’re doing things impartially and sharing that knowledge.”

Organisational change in increments

Adrian has been at the coalface of bringing the new website to life. It is a complex beast, broken into three components to allow multiple vendors to help deliver the whole project.

Te Papa would probably be the first to admit they weren’t an Agile organisation. Te Papa’s own project team and planning fully run in Agile, alongside a more traditional waterfall governance team – which “again has been a learning thing,” Adrian says.

Part of the new transparency has included an internal blog. The blog has not only demonstrated trust in the project team but served as a way to promote Agile processes to the organisation, as well as the project itself.

An adaptive process that focuses on the customer

“Agile has been useful in the way we’ve been prioritising requirements and adopting a user focus,” he says.

“Instead of being entirely business focused and all about Te Papa itself, we’ve reminded ourselves we aren’t our audience. So we’ve done a lot of user testing, having worked with about 900 users to get the experience and tone right. One of the advantages is that because it is online we get engaged feedback, and we can make informed decisions and adjust things quickly to make sure we’re delivering value to our customers.”

“That’s compared with spending nine months building it and then seeing how it all hangs together at the end.”

Find out more

“Because it is so visible, the project has attracted a lot of interest from other parts of the organisation. People have been watching our stand ups, looking at the whiteboards, asking us how to do Agile.”

Adrian’s been recommending that people pop along to Boost’s free Introduction to Agile workshop to “see what they think.”

“Agile also shows in small ways as a part of daily workflow,” he says. “If people ask, I’ll send them a Kanban Board by pointing them to a link and getting them to print it. There’s a few around the organisation now.”