What Can We Learn From The US Digital Services Playbook

What Is A Playbook – The term “Playbook” at-least as know it today is largely used in reference to sport. Media reports on games regularly used the term “Playbook” when referring to the strategies that coaches adopt against their opponents on the playing field. Coaches world over use Playbooks to list their execution strategies and choose them appropriately based on an assessment of the opponents strengths, weaknesses and his own teams composition and capability on the day of the game. Strictly speaking here’s a text book definition of the term Playbook with regards to business, politics and sport.

  • Business/Politics – A scheme or set or set of strategies for conducting a business campaign or political campaign
  • Sport – A book containing descriptions of moves or strategies that might be adopted by a team during play

Playbooks are sacrosanct to a team or organization. It’s rare to find organizations who open up their Playbooks to their competition.

So, why do We Need Playbooks – Playbooks as discussed earlier offer the leader or the coach a set of guidelines, manoeuvres or strategies that can be chosen based on the leaders assessment of the opponent’s strengths, opponent’s weakness including a good understanding of this own teams capability on the given day. Coaches and leaders use the Playbook to document the capability, strengths, weaknesses and strategies used by their opponents. A Playbook serves as a repository of statistics including facts on the competition combined with strategies that are a guide to determining the execution strategy for a given game.

Lets extend the concept of the Playbook from the field of sport to business and our own personal lives. We all use Playbooks of our own. Most of us have build these Playbooks through years of experience gained the hard way making mistakes along the way and if some of us are lucky, we’ve learnt from the mistakes of others . Playbooks are immensely useful and every successful individual or business will vouch for a certain set of principles or guiding methodologies which have helped them or their businesses achieve success.

In business and personal life not having a Playbook basically means that professionals and teams within organizations do not have a set of guiding principles to fall back on when performing complex tasks.  Each member of the team or organization can choose to perform a given set of tasks in their own ways without having to conform to a certain set of guidelines which in some cases can be great and in most cases could be down right disastrous.

Principles Laid Down In the US Digital Services Playbook – In light of what we have just discussed above lets look at the US Digital Services Playbook that has been put together to offer US Government IT initiatives a set of guiding principles to adopt when embarking on new Information Technology initiatives. Here’s a list of the 13 such principles which has been put together as part of the US Digital Services Playbook. For details on the link please scroll to the end of this article.

  1. Understand what people need – Don’t make assumptions on what people need. Get out there understand your customers needs, speak to your customers, see them in action and develop empathy for your users real needs. What comes to mind here is the use of Ethnographic techniques to understand what your users experiences through walking in their shoes and living their lives.
  2. Address the whole experience from start to finish – Architecture for a solution or capability should address the various customer interaction touchpoints. This would include both online and offline touchpoints ensuring that the customer experience throughout the life cycle of interaction with the customer is consistent and held to high standards.
  3. Make it simple and intuitive – Build services or capability which are simple, intuitive and usable. As engineers we like to pack capability into products and solutions but what the customer needs and is willing to pay for might be a fraction of what exists.
  4. Build the service using agile and iterative practices – Develop using the lean and agile approach. Focus on building your MVP or Minimum Viable Prototype (Note i don’t call it Product). Go in front of your customers, learn first hand what users have to say, what features work, what doesn’t and if your capability, service or product addresses a real customer need.
  5. Structure budgets and contracts to support delivery – Focus on creating contracts that make for constructive work atmospheres and bring about the required collaboration to ensure delivery of expected outcomes.
  6. Assign one leader and hold that person accountable – Have one single person in charge at the top and finally accountable for building and delivering the capability or service. This does not imply that all decisions across all tiers should be in the hands of one person. It suggest that at the end the responsibility and accountability for the success of the program or initiative should reside with one person. This person will still need to delegate across various functional areas to help others be successful so that he’s or she’s successful.
  7. Bring in experienced teams – Make sure your teams have the right capability and are staffed with resources who have relevant experience.
  8. Choose a modern technology stack – Invest with a view into the future. Choose a stack that has a long life ahead of it and build on a platform that has a strong ecosystem surrounding it. This will make sure you have easy access to the right capability and support to get the job done.
  9. Deploy in a flexible hosting environment – Leverage the capability of the cloud where ever possible. We would also suggest that you keep an eye on the Opex (Operational Expenditure) (i.e. recurring hosting charges) and compare them against a Capex (Capitel Expenditure) for the similar initiative.
  10. Automate testing and deployments – To the extent possible automate testing across the board. This applies to both functional and performance testing. Test frequently, test often and ensure your products meet the documented Non Functional Requirements before you consider opening them up to the world. Eating your own dog food also does help.
  11. Manage security and privacy through reusable processes – Ensure you have relevant processes to safeguard client data. Security is everyone’s business just like performance.
  12. Use data to drive decisions – Don’t rely on gut feeling, insight or past experience to make decisions. Collect data, instrument systems, visualize and analyse the data and make relevant forecasts. The chances of getting it wrong are much lower.
  13. Default to open – Have a bias for open standards, open platforms, open stacks as compared to proprietary and closed ones. Combine this with point 8 to ensure you have made the right decision.

The fine balancing act – The intention of such a Playbook is not to dictate how things should happen every step of the way and if you do take it that way it’s highly likely that you will stumble and fall. A Playbook is meant to be a set of guidelines. The Playbook offers a high level framework of reference which professionals and teams are able to refer to to ensure they are making decisions in best interests of their organization and relevant stakeholders. Treat a Playbook like a rule book and you’ve created barriers to taking risk, barriers to innovation, barriers to exploration.

You can read more about the US Digital Services Playbook at Link.


Trevor Warren (Linked In) sees himself as a entrepreneur who focuses on building innovative solutions that have the potential to impact people’s lives in a positive manner. Trevor is inquisitive by nature, loves asking questions and sotrevor_warrenmetimes does get into trouble for doing so. He’s passionate about somethings in life and building solutions that have the ability to impact people’s lives in a positive manner is one of them. He believes that he can change the world and is doing the little he can to change it in his own little ways. When not hacking, building new products, writing content for Practical Performance Analyst, dreaming up new concepts or building castles in the air, you can catch-him bird spotting (watching planes fly above his house). You can reach trevor at –  trevor at practical performance analyst dot com. The views expressed on this web site are his own.

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