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How we supported Scotland’s National Skills Agency during a pandemic

Insight Published on 11 February 2022

Over the last year and a half, we have been supporting Skills Development Scotland (SDS) on several digital projects.

We haven’t visited their offices, we haven’t met them face to face, we haven’t sat around a whiteboard together, and yet we have built a strong partnership and delivered on important projects.    

Our first project with SDS was to augment their team with some additional technical expertise to help them get live. Using our Umbraco skills, we were tasked with creating content blocks and ensuring they met accessibility standards.

That was followed by development work on the Skills Discovery tool, which gives users suggestions on jobs that require similar skills to those they have already acquired from previous jobs. This project also required Umbraco skills but this time we got to put some of our Angular and API skills to good use too. We also worked on the Career Check tool and Apprenticeships.Scot.

Before the pandemic, most organisations were of the mindset that co-location for such projects was a vital success factor. A year and a half into our work with SDS and we’re not so sure.

Nick Collins, Senior Front-end Developer, has been involved in most of our work with SDS. He has identified four factors that have ensured a positive working relationship, despite not being able to be in the same place at the same time.

  • Embrace the client’s way of working. SDS uses several tools, procedures, and some terminology that we don’t use but we knew it was important to embrace their way of working. This meant quickly moving over to Jira rather than DevOps and Slack rather than Teams.
  • Ensure regular and consistent communication. Both the developers and the project manager maintained consistent communication throughout projects; developers attended and contributed to SDS stand-ups, and the project manager communicated with SDS project managers on a weekly basis to ensure alignment of resources and budgets.
  • Importance of a broad skill set. All PDMS colleagues on the project had a broad skill set, which meant they were able to add value in several areas. This meant we were not held up by having to bring in additional skills when faced with a challenge. We could speak to colleagues if we needed support but generally, we were able to tackle most issues on our own even if they weren’t exactly what we were commissioned to do.
  • Shared cultures are key. Although the tools we use differ from the tools used by SDS, we have similar cultures. The transparent, open, collaborative and supporting culture we know at PDMS is similar to that found in SDS which made it much easier to become part of their team.

There are obvious benefits that result from being co-located with clients, but it isn’t always necessary if working practices like these are put in place. We are looking forward to continuing our work with SDS, co-located or not, as they continue to improve employment and skills outcomes across the nation.