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Post-Brexit Commercial Goods & Customs



Effective MVP-level products can be produced by experienced Agile User-Centred Design teams in a very short period of time

HMRC kicked-off a project in late 2018 in order to be prepared for the (first) Brexit deadline date at the end of March 2019.  At the time, goods crossing from the EU into the UK did not require any customs documentation, however, in a post-Brexit scenario if the UK was no longer in a customs union with the EU documentation would be needed.


The brief

12 weeks to achieve a working minimum viable product for a post-Brexit Commercial Goods customs documentation system required for goods coming into the UK from the EU.

My role

My primary responsibility was as User Researcher – however, I worked very closely with the Interaction Designer to produce prototypes for testing as well as a mock-up of a secure system which was required as part of the work – but which was unavailable for testing.

The project process

Discovery research:

  • users at HMRC and their current ways of working at the UK border
  • Border Force and their current ways of working when receiving and managing intelligence information at their National Intelligence Hub
  • the recruitment and work environment which was believed to be in place for the workforce which would be required to manage the estimated up to 20,000 commercial goods border crossings per day
  • Discovery research who were facilitated production of the audience recruitment spec and hired a supplier to arrange interviews

Alpha phase prototyping:

  • with users selected from a cohort of staff likely to be similar to those selected to do the work when the product went live, post Brexit.
  • to investigate, iterate and refine theories for possible solutions based on what was uncovered in Discovery
  • reviewed internally with HMRC and with GDS (Government Digital Service ) assessors
  • resulted in a final set of designs suitable for development

The project process

From a research perspective, the greatest initial challenge was understanding the volume of border transactions that were envisaged to take place – and the environment in which information would be gathered and transmitted.  This was complex as there was no readily available data for the number of individual shipments which would require documentation in a post-EU UK.  Alongside that, there was a great deal to learn about the physical infrastructure at ferry ports and the Eurotunnel which would have an impact on when, how and where goods vehicles arrived, presented paperwork, were stopped and investigated or allowed to queue to get on ferries or trains.

Next was the challenge of recruiting a user audience for usability testing in the Alpha phase.  In short – there were no actual users available as the post-EU circumstances did not yet exist – and workers which would understand and undertake the necessary tasks likewise did not exist.  We recruited users from HMRC teams which were likely to be similar to those who would be used to process documentation when the day arrived.  Additionally, we needed to provide (extremely brief) training to users who would be using the system which was being built – as it was effectively describing situations and requiring actions of users who had no prior context.

Outcomes / results

The team managed to ramp up within 12 weeks to produce an MVP which covered what was required in the first instance.  Overall, effective!

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