Five lessons from six months working on MyNavy

Last autumn, an unusual thing happened. We got one of our babies back.

Great State developed the MVP for MyNavy back in 2019, in response to hours and hours of interviews across Navy personnel that showed serving staff felt undervalued, unsupported, uncertain about their future in the Navy and frustrated with its analogue ways of working. After that, the project passed to another agency for its next iteration, as these things sometimes do. Then, in the summer of 2021, MyNavy moved under the stewardship of Navy Digital. Lt-Cdr Morgan Long (universally known as Mogsy) took over as project manager and senior product owner and Great State was reappointed as MyNavy’s digital programme partner.

Obviously it had changed a bit since we’d last seen it. What had been an app that focused on helping people manage their careers in the Navy had taken on a healthcare role, recording people’s Covid status and vaccination details. In doing so it had attracted attention from a number of senior people within the Navy, which meant Mogsy – and therefore Great State – came into the job with three directives from the Second Sea Lord: make MyNavy available to the whole force; make it an internal communications platform for the whole service; and make it an Amazon for uniform.

Six months or so since starting work together, the MyNavy/Great State team has delivered all of this and more. So it seemed like a good time to take stock of what we’ve learned as a team, an agency, and as people.

1. Working with public sector organisations doesn’t have to be slow.

This is a myth that needs to be dispelled. It’s commonly thought to be the case owing to the strict governance and a lot of bureaucracy within the public sector, and over time their agency partners come to mirror that. But when we came back to MyNavy, we had to prove our value really quickly, and we found that if you’ve got a client who’s willing to do things a little bit differently, and challenge people, and you’ve also got a team thinking the same way, there’s no reason why you can’t deliver value quickly within government. This is especially the case when the client in question is an empowered, uniformed product owner sitting right at the heart of the organisation; someone just like Mogsy. This collaborative approach means that not only do we have first-hand access to the lived-experience of serving personnel but also means we benefit from an on-the-ground driver for change, equipped with the knowledge and the access to make things happen quickly.

2. Don’t just deliver things for the sake of it.

Everyone talks about being user-centric, but most of the time, they’re not. Their organisational objectives or their hierarchy get in the way. In Mogsy we have a product owner who understands the value of being user-centred, and that if MyNavy works for the end-user, it’ll work for the organisation. Everything we’ve done on MyNavy has involved talking to users, and now we’ve built the Have Your Say feature, we’re constantly getting feedback. People are identifying problems we didn’t know existed, suggesting enhancements to existing services we might not have thought of, and recommending new features and functions that we wouldn’t necessarily have identified. All of which means we’re constantly improving the service MyNavy offers its users.

3. Teams work better when they set their goals together.

Working on MyNavy with the Navy, we’re all part of the same team, and that’s really important. We set the foundation for this when we started on the project again; we went back to the reasons MyNavy exists and as a team we co-created a new vision and a new set of values for it. That brought the team much closer together, because everyone’s now working towards the same thing, and it’s created an environment where we can challenge each other. We’ve all bought into the vision, and we all hold each other accountable for not letting that vision be watered down.

4. We’re not just helping improve MyNavy; we’re upskilling the Navy.

The whole point of MyNavy is that the Navy is recognising the value of its people, and that’s true at the level of our team too. The Navy recognises they’re behind where they need be with digital, which means we have to understand we’re not just there to deliver a thing; we’re there to train people. We’re there to mentor them and give them better skills to take back to the Navy. So our success should be judged not just on what we’re delivering for the people who use the app, but also whether we’ve helped someone who’s worked with us for eight weeks improve, have new experiences and learn new skills.

5. If you work on something that makes a difference to people, it makes a difference to you too.

As much as I’ve loved all the other work I’ve done in my career, MyNavy is different; it makes you care. We’re talking to personnel all the time; we’ve had feedback from people who were struggling, saying they found the help they needed through MyNavy. When you hear that from someone directly, you get that sense of doing genuinely rewarding work, the sort that most people never have the chance to do.

With MyNavy, we’re building a tool that will be essential for people’s lives. What I’ve realised over the past six months is that when the team understand the significance of what they’re doing, and when they really care, the quality of work you can do together, the speed at which you can do it, and the impact you can have will really make a difference.

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