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My first 6 months as Head of Digital Performance Analytics

I took over the Head of Role for Digital Performance Analytics in December 2019, having been a civil servant for 13 months. Alongside the Head of Role post, I also took on management of the Digital Performance Analytics team in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). This team contains most of the Digital Performance Analytics in DWP.

Photo of Gemma Elsworth presenting a slide on the 'Ice lolly data team'

As Head of Role, I’m responsible for making sure every Digital Performance Analyst in DWP can learn new skills to help them to progress in their career. I also need to make sure that we have enough people, with the right skills, to help all the teams that need us.

As manager of the team, I need to make sure that I support the people I work with both at work and personally. The team need to know what’s expected of them, and what is the most important work right now. I need to take on some of the biggest challenges we face and solve them so everyone else on the team can concentrate on doing their day job.

What digital performance analysts do

Digital Performance Analysts work with teams that are building new digital products, such as online applications for social security benefits or a new communication tool for DWP employees. We try to understand what the new products are going to do, then we work out how to prove whether they are achieving that. Teams make small changes along the way to get closer to their goals and we do analysis alongside these changes to make sure they’re working the way we expect and to suggest what should come next. Teams use this information alongside talking to users to make sure they keep building the right things.

Finding my feet

In the last 3 months before I took over the role, we implemented changes to ensure that we were compliant with regulations around collecting consent with users around cookies. This meant we were not able to follow their anonymous user journeys. This was a huge challenge for the product teams we supported, who used this information in their understanding of the user journey on their products, so I knew what I was going to work on right away.

My initial priorities were to get a compliant consent mechanism so teams could understand their product usage, and we needed to show that measurement and performance success wasn’t solely reliant on Google Analytics. At the same time, I needed to ensure we built and maintained good close relationships with the digital teams we support so we could provide the best service we can.

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The first few weeks on the job were fast paced and a bombardment of new information. It was intense and pretty stressful at times. For a while I was struggling to stop thinking about work when I got home and worried that I’d taken on too much. However, over time, as I started to understand the different elements of the job, I could see some of the opportunities to make things easier, to use the tools and support from DWP to help me.

Discovering the practise

One of my biggest challenges has been separating the two parts of my role and looking at things from the right perspective. The team I manage makes up most of the Digital Performance Analysis community, but not all. It’s important to distinguish issues for the team and for the whole community. I needed to learn to switch from team focus to Head of Role focus when necessary.

My first practice meeting was really inspiring. I saw how a strong community would enable me to learn about things I needed to make the team, and the profession, more efficient. I also saw the chance to build our professional community. I started to think about how we could work together more closely, learn from each other and build relationships outside of our functional teams. Since then we’ve held our first community day where we talked together about things we’ve been doing in the profession. It’s early days, but it’s been good to share outside of our immediate team and collaborate with likeminded colleagues.

Life in lockdown

Just as I was starting to feel like we were making a difference lockdown happened, priorities changed overnight. We were separated physically from teams we’d been trying so hard to stay close to. We gained some new customers too, as for the first time there was interest in users’ activity in the run -up to claiming UC. Some active work paused as we pivoted as an organisation to support those most in need during this time. I’d never been so proud to work anywhere. Everyone has taken time to reprioritise and learn this new way of communicating with each other. We’ve had to change the way we work with teams again.

During lockdown we’ve been able to release the new consent mechanism and have begun to switch Google Analytics on for teams again, but we’re less reliant on that now. We know that the value we add is in understanding how to measure the success of development and that the online user journey is only one small part.

Now I’m focusing on enabling us to access more data sources that will make decision making easier for development teams. Our future doesn’t lie in us being one single team but in spreading out, focusing our support full -time on the teams who need us, and to ensure that data capability is built in from the start.

Although this role was daunting at the start, I love logging in to work every day. Each day presents a new challenge to work on with my DPA family. I’m passionate about the power and importance of performance analytics in developing tools that really improve our ability to provide support for citizens. I want to share and grow that passion as far as possible in DWP and beyond.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Revd. Bob Jones posted on

    Would have expected no less from Gemma