5 ways working in a digital agency is different to Government

My experience moving from Government to an agency

Dharmesh
3 min readJun 29, 2021

I left the UK Government in 2020. It was a hard decision. I worked with incredible people and on projects that made a true difference to people’s lives.

When the pandemic hit, I found myself burning the candle on both ends. I knew I wanted to try something new. I’d worked in a startup, e-commerce company, and now it was time to experience an agency.

I’ve been at my new company, Softwire for more than six months. Here are the major differences I’ve observed between an agency and Government.

Parliament. Image by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/bridge-over-river-in-city-258117/
  1. You have to be flexible

In Government, I found my role more defined. In agency land, you adapt to the project. As a Product Manager, I find that I’ve been flexing my Delivery Management skills. Sometimes a limited budget means you can’t afford to separate out these roles. I will run the retrospective, run a workshop or write a user research script. Other times, I’ve created a resourcing model, a roadmap and mapped user journeys.

2. You account for your time differently

Any time you spend on a project is billed. It’s rare for you to stay on a project full time. You have to track time, use timesheets and bill the client. You have to keep a sharp eye on this as you can blow your budget!

Having a designer or researcher for three days means you have to adapt your project. It can mean compromising on scope or deliverables. It’s a delicate balance.

3. Commercials. Commercials. Commercials.

In Government, I used to interview agencies. Now I’m pitching for roles! It feels surreal going to the other side. One thing, I have appreciated much more though, is the level of thought and time taken to craft the pitch-deck. We practice and run mock interviews. We care. Reading a Government advert rather than writing one is a welcome change!

If you don’t win a contract, it can mean you have many people on the bench. That can be tough.

4. Discovery-phobia

If I suggested to a client that I wanted to run an 8 week discovery, eyebrows would raise.

Don’t get me wrong, discoveries can be great! But budget and time means it’s not always the right approach. In an agency, there’s flexibility to try new things. You’re not constrained by the discovery, alpha and beta model. Clients want results. They need confidence you’ll deliver the right thing.

Richard’s thread deserves a whole blog post to respond to his points. Sometimes you need to deliver something. You can learn a lot of lessons by getting something in the wild and iterating.

Working on COVID projects, we had to spin up services fast. When time is of the essence, long discoveries are not always the right approach.

5. Sector specific vs. variety

In Government, I found my work focused on sectors. For example, when I worked at the Department for Education, my work was focused…*drum roll*….on Education. Of course it did! The advantage is you develop a deep understanding of an industry.

In a digital agency, In six months, I have worked on an entertainment, health and now a transport product! The variety is broad and diverse. It all depends on the contracts you win. I enjoy the diversity. Others may not.

Ultimately, whether you work in Government, agency or a start-up, as long as you work with great people and interesting products, you’ll be ok.

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Dharmesh

Product and delivery guy. Honorary Wakandan. Ex-@NHSX, @DfEDigital & @DHSCgovuk. #IBD warrior. #LFC fan. Views my own.