What is agile?

Agile delivery encourages teams to build quickly, test what they’ve built regularly and improve (iterate) their work based on regular feedback from users and performance data.

The principles behind agile delivery are set out in the Agile Manifesto (2001).

Agile delivery is split into 4 different phases: Discovery, Alpha, Beta and Live. There is more information about each of these stages below.

If a project is being delivered using agile methods Digital First Service Standard assessments take place during the Discovery, Alpha and Beta phases.

Further information on agile can be found on the website.

The Scottish Digital Academy offer agile courses for organisations.

Why agile?

Future public services in Scotland need to be flexible. When services are delivered using agile methods, it allows them to be changed quickly and improved regularly.

If you’re not using agile to deliver your service, please raise this in your first conversation with the Digital First team.

You can contact them at


In Discovery you will be researching so that you understand if a service should be delivered. If your research suggests it should, discovery should help you prioritise what you need to do for alpha.

Discovery is completed over a short period of time - ideally 3-4 weeks.

When you finish Discovery, you should:

  • know the skills for the team you need for alpha
  • have a prioritised list of user needs and user stories - captured through user research
  • have a list of stakeholders and input from them regarding existing services
  • understand existing services (including relevant non-public sector sources) and how they may fit with the new service
  • understand how many users will need assisted digital support and their needs
  • have a rough plan about what you want to deliver in Alpha including draft prototypes

Further information on Discovery is available on the GOV.UK website.


In Alpha you will be testing the assumptions you’ve made from the research in your Discovery. To do this you will be testing prototypes with users and stakeholders.

Alongside testing the prototypes, you will be deciding how to build the service. You will need to prove it is technically possible to deliver the service at the end of Alpha.

Most Alphas are 8 weeks long and include 3 stages:

  1. getting the team together to set out goals
  2. build prototypes, test them, learn, change and test again
  3. you move on to the beta phase or end the project

When you exit Alpha, you should:

  • decide whether to move your service into the Beta phase
  • understand the problems with the design of your service and decide how you’ll solve them
  • make some estimates about how much your service will cost
  • identify any risks for the Beta stage and plan how you’ll tackle them
  • decide what you need to build in Beta if you are moving into Beta

Further information on Alpha is available on the GOV.UK website.


In Beta you will be developing a working version of your service. This is sometimes called a minimum viable product (MVP).

It must be able to handle real transactions (for example if your service includes a search function users must be able to search and get results).

Beta involves releasing a version of your service to the public.

The length of time your service will spend in Beta depends on the scale of your project. Until your service is live, you will need to have a Beta banner. There is a Beta design pattern you must follow.

When you exit Beta, you should:

  • be able support your service with the right team including an on-going plan for user research
  • have made a prioritised list of the work you need to do for the live service (a backlog)
  • have found a way to measure your service’s success using new data you’ve got during the Beta phase
  • tested the way you’ve designed assisted digital support for your service
  • have built a working service that can be used in full by users

Further information on Beta is available on the GOV.UK website.


When your service is Live the focus is on continually improving it. You will improve your service with:

  • user feedback
  • analytics
  • your ongoing user research

Your service can’t become Live until it has been through the Discovery, Alpha and Beta.