Alpha is the fourth User Centred Design (UCD) phase and the second of the delivery phases.
What Alpha is not
- Alpha is not about building a working service - it shouldn’t be perceived as building ‘phase one’ of the Beta.
- Alpha is not about validating what users like and dislike - your success measures should be focussed on how well prototypes meet users’ actual needs.
Don’t constrain prototyping ideas based on current business, technical or time constraints. Think big and explore a vision for the future, that way you can validate if the effort to implement this over time will be worthwhile.
Why do we need the Alpha phase?
The aim of this phase is to test your hypotheses by building prototypes and exploring different ideas to meet your users’ needs. Alpha ensures the team builds the right thing the right way before actually building it as making changes to a fully functioning live service can be a costly exercise.
What happens in the Alpha phase?
To ensure the right thing is built during Alpha:
- be bold with service design, challenge traditional approaches to solving user needs, and quickly validate them with user research
- be ok with (and highly recommend) throwing away prototypes you build when you decide the final approach
- establish the team’s delivery approach and ways of working
- apply the user centred, cross-functional and multi-disciplinary principles from the Discovery phase when making the prototypes
- form a routine of continuously building, collaborating and testing new ideas around prototypes
- regularly present your findings to stakeholders
- from what you learn, define the future vision for the service – what a real solution could look like to users. A solution that works across the boundaries of agencies or tiers of government
- scope the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – the smallest thing you can build that meets user needs. The MVP will set out the scope of what is built in Beta.
How long does the Alpha phase last?
Typically, Alpha takes five weeks.
Starting the Alpha phase
Before starting Alpha, re-visit the Discovery phase to ensure there are well-defined, quantified hypotheses.
It is best if the existing Discovery team continue to work on Alpha - keeping the existing empathy, context and momentum within the team. See Building a UCD Team to obtain the resources required for this phase.
- Has the team completed a kick-off?
- Has the team developed and iterated a prototype with users to ‘show the thing’?
- Has the Minimum Viable Product been identified?
- Has the team self-assessed against the Digital Service Standard?
The next phase is Beta.