Digital Maneuver Playbook

Version 0.1

A guide for helping organizations delivery technology to users faster

02 - Go where the work is

This is a phrase often used at Defense Digital Services and is something that large enterprises often fail to do. The goal of building good software and digital services should be to place the builders (those who build the systems) as close as possible to the users (the people actually using the system). In other words, cut out all the unhelpful middle-management.

Unfortunately, in large enterprises or government organizations it is the opposite of this approach that is the status quo. Here’s an example of how things can be done badly:

  • Product requirements set by one group who represents user concerns
  • Allocation of funding based on the product requirement is handled by a totally different group
  • Yet another group will manage the use of the funding to engage an internal development team or external vendor or contractor who then has their own development team
  • Then there is a product development team who actually has the technologists building the product
  • Finally, at there is the end-user

Each of those intermediate layers results in essentially a game of telephone, just like schoolchildren play. In the end, there is much wasted effort and the user does not receive a valuable product.

The USDS Playbook describes it thusly and provides a checklist and Key Question items:

We must begin digital projects by exploring and pinpointing the needs of the people who will use the service, and the ways the service will fit into their lives. Whether the users are members of the public or government employees, policy makers must include real people in their design process from the beginning. The needs of people — not constraints of government structures or silos — should inform technical and design decisions. We need to continually test the products we build with real people to keep us honest about what is important.


  1. Early in the project, spend time with current and prospective users of the service
  2. Use a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods to determine people’s goals, needs, and behaviors; be thoughtful about the time spent
  3. Test prototypes of solutions with real people, in the field if possible Document the findings about user goals, needs, behaviors, and preferences
  4. Share findings with the team and agency leadership
  5. Create a prioritized list of tasks the user is trying to accomplish, also known as “user stories”
  6. As the digital service is being built, regularly test it with potential users to ensure it meets people’s needs

Key Questions

  • Who are your primary users?
  • What user needs will this service address?
  • Why does the user want or need this service?
  • Which people will have the most difficulty with the service?
  • Which research methods were used?
  • What were the key findings?
  • How were the findings documented? Where can future team members access the documentation?
  • How often are you testing with real people?