Two clear signs that you might be underinvesting in your platform

It’s been several months since the release of the Ad Hoc Platform Smells Playbook, a guide to help government agencies detect, diagnose, and correct common issues with their software delivery platforms.

In the intervening months, we’ve used the information in this guide to help our customers understand issues with their platforms when they arise.

Agencies adopt platforms, and a platform-based approach to building digital services, because it enables them to deploy high-quality digital solutions more efficiently, more quickly, and more securely. Federal agencies are working to comply with specific directives to deliver better customer experiences for digital services, and platforms can play a key role in these efforts.

As agencies use platforms to support these efforts, issues occasionally crop up. We’ve seen this happen enough times to motivate us to collect a list of them in our Playbook. But there are two issues common enough to warrant a follow-up post with more details on how to spot these issues, understand what they mean, and get them fixed.

The root cause of both of these issues is a lack of investment in the continued evolution of a platform – something that has to occur to ensure it continues to meet the needs of the agency. If you want to understand whether underinvestment might be impacting the success of your platform, here are two signs (or smells) to look for.

It takes a long time to onboard to your platform

Agencies that employ platforms meant to support multiple product teams should track metrics that help identify how long it takes for a team to get up and running. If it’s taking new teams a long time to get up and running on your platform, it’s a sign that there may be something wrong.

As we say in the Playbook, good platforms have a short time to the first “Hello, World!”. It should be easy for teams to understand how to use your platform, and the steps required to get access should be quick and simple. Ideally, teams can automatically set up a new account (typically in a sandbox or test segment of your platform) so that they can understand how their product needs to be structured to work on it. Good platforms are all about removing cognitive load from product teams and letting them focus on what they do best – building great products. If they struggle to understand how your platform works and the steps required to get access are long and arduous, then that’s less time they have to work on delivering a high-quality service.

It’s not uncommon for early-stage platforms to have manual onboarding processes and sparse documentation, but as they mature, investment enables the implementation of automated onboarding and self-provisioning of resources. Similarly, as a platform grows and takes on more customers, providing comprehensive documentation can speed up the onboarding process and keep the team managing the platform from being overwhelmed.

Investing in the tools and processes to enable automated onboarding and self-provision, and continually refining your platform documentation will enable teams to get up and running quickly, and – more importantly – reduce unnecessary cognitive load from the teams building customer-facing solutions.

Help desk tickets take a long time to get resolved

Another key indicator of platform underinvestment is the time for help desk tickets to get resolved. As we say in the Playbook, “[w]hen support requests begin to pile up, when time to resolve customer issues begins to climb, or when users actively look for ways to work around support, this may indicate some more fundamental issues.”

The customer support queue for your platform is an important resource that you can use to enhance and improve your platform, and good platform teams pay close attention to the kinds of support issues users raise. When users raise common questions about how your platform works, it can be a clue that your documentation needs to be updated. This lets users understand how your platform works without having to wait for a support request to be answered. And it takes the burden of responses to repetitive questions off of your support team.

Mature platforms also use support requests as an input into their product roadmap. If users encounter a common problem or repeatedly make a feature request they’d like to see, platform teams can use this as direct input into their product backlogs. This helps ensure close alignment with the operation of the platform and the needs of the users of that platform.

Get your copy of the Platform Smells Playbook

These are just two of the issues we identify in our Platform Smells Playbook, but they are among the most common. To learn more about how you can identify common issues with your platform and steps you can take to correct them, you can get a free copy of our Platform Smells Playbook here.

If you’re new to platforms and want to learn more about how they can help your agency meet its customer service goals, check out our Groundwork program for more information.