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Multidisciplinary team

You need a multidisciplinary team to build government services in an agile way. These kinds of teams help you to build quickly and iteratively, based on user needs.

A multidisciplinary team brings together the roles you need you need to build services quickly and efficiently.

Teams who work this way are open minded and work across disciplines. They are structured to include the people who are authorised to make decisions, so the team can keep building what users need. The team is empowered to keep delivering.

While some roles may change during the service design and delivery process, the multidisciplinary team is ideally the core group of people who stay with the service from Discovery stage through to release in Live stage.

Meeting the Digital Service Standard

You must work as a multidisciplinary team to meet Criteria 2: Have a multidisciplinary team of the Digital Service Standard.

The Digital Service Standard guides teams to build services that are simpler, clearer and faster.

Why we use multidisciplinary teams

When you build services as a multidisciplinary team, the end users and other stakeholders have a voice from the start. All of the people who have an interest in the service are together to collaborate from the beginning.

The benefits of multidisciplinary teams are that:

  • roles that were traditionally inserted at the end of a project (and often too late to do their best work) can have input from the beginning
  • people with complementary skills work together at the same time on the same part of the service
  • the team is always jointly responsible for delivery

A multidisciplinary team uses in-depth user research when they start to make decisions about what to build and how to deliver it. This means services are:

  • built using user-centred design developed iteratively and closely with users
  • guided by data and testing they reflects the actual user journey
  • focused on the end-to-end experience they are simpler, clearer and faster

Multidisciplinary teams make it easier to build

Traditionally government has formed teams around agency structures that typically work in a linear way. Multiple teams ‘own’ different parts of the product. Specialists don’t get the chance to work together to come up with creative solutions.

Multidisciplinary teams change this by forming teams around a problem or a service. The team starts with all the right skills to create incremental bits of value that meet a user need. They have the correct capability and skills to be autonomous and minimise dependencies.

Teams are small (less than 10). They are co-located and empowered to make decisions and to iterate rapidly.

Starting a multidisciplinary team

You will need to have specific roles in the multidisciplinary team before you start Discovery stage. The same roles will be in the team through Alpha and Beta stages to release of the service in Live stage. There might be other roles in the team at different stages to support them.

You might need to recruit people for the team or there may be people you are already working with.

The team may include people who are ongoing or non-ongoing staff in the Australian Public Service and contractors.

You need to find people who will form a digitally capable team. This means the people in the team will be able to start collaborating quickly to build momentum. They should have experience working in a multidisciplinary team or have the capability to work in this way.

If your team is missing skills or team members need to build their skills, consider bringing in an expert and allowing a team member to shadow them.

Get the right mindset and skills

People in a multidisciplinary team need the right mindset as well as skills.

Team members should be open to new ways of thinking and doing things. They should:

  • be keen to regularly share their knowledge
  • have a flexible outlook so they can adapt their work in response to user research
  • value the contributions of all team members equally regardless of their seniority in the organisation
  • be willing to fail fast and learn quickly
  • have an open mind and a willingness to learn

Find people with T-shaped skills

Look for team members with ‘T-shaped’ skills. These are people who have deep knowledge in a discipline (the vertical part of the T) and the ability to work with people in other roles (the horizontal part of the T).

People with T-shaped skills are natural collaborators. They apply their deep knowledge to other disciplines to make creative connections. They are driven by curiosity to learn from other experts both in the team and elsewhere in the organisation.

When we have a team with T-shaped skills, we are able to keep building. I’ve worked in teams when we regularly got blocked because people couldn’t understand what each other’s work was about. They’d just work in silos, and no one could learn from each other.