More agile-thinkers like Roo Reynolds please

By Tony Collins

There’s a useful “keep-it-simple” article on agile software development principles by Roo Reynolds who a product manager at the Government Digital Service.

Reynolds quotes Marissa Mayer, former Google product manager, now Yahoo CEO, who said that there are two types of developer: those who seek perfection and those who seek something working today that they can improve on tomorrow.

“You probably want to work with the second sort of developer as much as possible,” says Reynolds. He quotes Voltaire as saying ‘the best is the enemy of the good’.  From Reynolds’ article:

“We start with a Minimum Viable Product, asking ourselves, what’s the simplest thing that could possibly work? We aim to have a working product, albeit a limited one, within a week or two.

“Having something you can point at and get feedback on as soon as possible is definitely better than attempting to polish something to perfection without anyone being able to tell you whether what you’re making is actually what they need.”

He warns against using made-up data, such as Lorem Ipsum text, because:

– it causes existing assumptions to be reinforced rather than challenged

– it lazily misses an opportunity to iron out any difficulties in getting hold of the real data

He concludes that “nothing beats feedback from real users”.

“Testing products with real users is vital. We always start with user needs (generally captured as user stories) and in meeting those needs I’ve learned not to get too comfortable with any implementation until we’ve tried it with a range of real people. Best of all, it’s ok to be wrong. The best way of getting closer to being right is to test real ideas with real people.”


If these principles had been applied to the NPfIT it might never have been started.  The NPfIT launched with the principle: what’s the most complicated thing that could possibly work?

Too often assumptions were made on the basis of unrepresentative data such as patient records that were up-to-date, accurate and not duplicated. The NPfIT was tested on real users – but then the bad news was all but ignored.

If Reynolds had been advising on the NPfIT, and Tony Blair hadn’t been so gung-ho when he chaired a discussion on NHS IT at a meeting in Downing Street on 18 February 2002, perhaps billions would not have been wasted on the programme.

More like Roo Reynolds in government please.


Reynolds’ article, Government Digital Service.

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