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Health Product People: what does a good supplier look like?

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The Health Product People community was started in January 2018 to bring together people working on digital services across the health and care space to share ideas, collaborate and work together to solve problems. The Health Product People community builds on the good work of the cross-government product and service community.

At our fifth event last week, we looked at what a good supplier looks like.

The event was split into 2 parts:

  • 3 show and tells
  • a retrospective

Show and tells

Chris Ijoyah, Product Development Officer, Department of Health and Social Care

Chris talked about conducting a sprint with a supplier on the department’s intranet. Here’s some of the highlights of that talk:

  • Chris’s team and the supplier only used Trello to communicate. This worked really well as it meant that decisions weren’t lost in an endless barrage of information (looking at you, Slack)
  • the next time Chris works with a supplier, he wants to be clearer about the expectation of work to take place
  • Chris would also plan more to ensure he understood the client’s sprint process

People at the event

Ben Showers, Digital Assurance and Standards Lead, Department of Health and Social Care

Ben talked about what he looks for in a supplier. Here’s some of the highlights of that talk:

  • Ben talked about the importance of a multidisciplinary team. He talked about having clear separation of roles when working on a project. If someone is fulfilling multiple roles, then it can mean they don’t have enough time dedicated to a discipline, for example user research
  • Ben provided 2 examples of a good supplier–client relationships within government. Common themes he identified in these relationships included:
    • being agile
    • having a clear product owner from the internal organisation
    • strong communication to set expectation of work
    • relationship management
    • the client building capability in the internal organisation
  • Ben mentioned this quote from Hackney Digital Team: “Whilst there’s an expectation that suppliers will work hard to fit in with our needs, we can produce better work at a lower cost if we’re good to work with”. Good communication is critical for any project to succeed

Alex Wolff, Head of Digital Labs at Softwire

It was important to get a supplier’s perspective too. Alex talked about his experience working across government. Here’s some highlights:

  • suppliers really care about if they fit a project too. It’s better to bid for things they think they can make a valuable contribution to than joining something that they don’t have the skills for
  • the research suppliers inherit can be a challenge as it can be out of date or invalid. While they would love to start from scratch, they often try to make the best of what is available
  • the pace of delivery teams can often catch out government colleagues who struggle to set aside their day job or work commitments outside of the team. This means they are prone to fall behind with the work of the delivery team
  • after the first week on a new project it's not uncommon that 50% of what was outlined in the procurement phase is not valid anymore
  • suppliers also care about what comes next too. They want to make sure that there are good plans in place for what comes next after their involvement is over

Advice to government colleagues:

  • be upfront and honest during procurement, especially in answering supplier questions. Being transparent about what the work entails means the supplier can judge if they can help quicker in the process. You’ll also get better applications from suppliers who are confident they have the skills to do a good job
  • an engaged product owner is really important. Having someone who is committed and takes responsibility for the product delivers better results
  • get early GDS involvement. Knowing where the goal posts are sooner allows the team to deliver the right thing
  • it makes life easier if some of the small stuff is sorted in advance, such as getting passes for your new team mates or making sure they have the equipment they need. Not having this sorted in advance impacts the pace of delivery
  • be realistic about start dates. Finding the right people to match a project on start dates that are almost immediate after procurement can be tough
  • Slack tends to be a good communication tool
  • learn from the private sector and be more ruthless about killing off bad ideas. They do a better job of stopping work that is going to be too risky to deliver or lacks value. If the evidence points to not continuing with a discovery or alpha phase, then follow that advice

Retrospective – reflecting on the event

In our efforts to make this community helpful to our colleagues, we ran a short start/stop/continue retrospective to see what we should begin doing, what we need to stop and what should continue. Below are the responses.


  • events – seen as valuable from the community
  • external perspective – seen as valuable
  • real-life examples – the community loved that they were used
  • show and tell sessions


  • more interdepartmental crossover
  • more time for discussions
  • example of mapping exercises
  • future session on personas
  • future session on procurement
  • better dial-in (we’ll do better next time!)
  • a visit to a product/service
  • sessions in different locations
  • future session on service assessments
  • an event with internal and external stakeholders

Nobody asked to stop any of the current practices, so we must be doing something right!

What's next?

We are now in the process of sorting out the next event. We’ll explore different venues – perhaps one with better wifi connectivity!

Joining the Health Product People community

Do you work in the health and care space? Interested in sharing your ideas and work with others?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, please contact or with information about who you are, your role and the service you are working on.

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