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Category: DWP

So, what is a Service Owner?

Before I discuss what (in my view) a Service Owner is, a brief history lesson into the role might be useful.

The role of the ‘Service Manager‘ was seen as critically important to the success of a product, and they were defined as a G6 (Manager) who had responsibility for the end to end service AND the person who led the team through their Service Standard assessments.

Now let’s think about this a bit; Back when the GDS Service Standard and the Service Manual first came into creation, they were specifically created for/with GOV.UK in mind. As such, this definition of the role makes some sense. GOV.UK was (relatively) small and simple; and one person could ‘own’ the end to end service.

The problem came about when the Service Standards were rolled our wider than in GDS itself. DWP is a good example of where this role didn’t work.

The Service Manual describes a service as the holistic experience for a user; so it’s not just a Digital Product, it’s the telephony Service that sits alongside it, the back end systems that support it, the Operational processes that staff use to deliver the service daily, along with the budget that pays for it all. Universal Credit is a service, State Pension is a service; and both of these services are, to put it bluntly, HUGE.

Neil Couling is a lovely bloke, who works really hard, and has the unenviable task of having overarching responsibility for Universal Credit. He’s also, a Director General. While he knows A LOT about the service, it is very unlikely that he would know the full history of every design iteration and user research session the Service went through, or be able to talk in detail about the tech stack and it’s resilience etc; and even if he did, he certainly would be very unlikely to have the 4 hours spare to sit in the various GDS assessments UC went through.

This led to us (in DWP) phasing out the role; and splitting the responsibilities into two, the (newly created role of ) Product Lead and the Service Owner. The Product Lead did most of the work of the Service Manager (in terms of GDS assessments etc), but they didn’t have the responsibility of the end to end service; this sat with the Service Owner. The Service Owner was generally a Director General (and also the SRO), who we clarified the responsibilities of when it came to Digital Services.

A few years ago, Ross (the then Head of Product and Service Management at GDS) and I, along with a few others, had a lot of conversations about the role of the Service Manager; and why in departments like DWP, the role did not work, and what we were doing instead.

At the time there was the agreement in many of the Departments outside of GDS that the Service Manager role wasn’t working how it had been intended, and was instead causing confusion and in some cases, creating additional unnecessary hierarchy. The main problem was, is it was in DWP, the breadth of the role was too big for anyone below SCS, which mean instead we were ending up with Service Managers who were only responsible for the digital elements of the service (and often reported to a Digital Director), with all non digital elements of the service sitting under a Director outside of Digital, which was creating more division and confusion.

As such, the Service Manual and the newly created DDaT framework were changed to incorporate the role of the Service Owner instead of the Service Manager; with the suggestion this role should be an SCS level role. However, because the SCS was outside of the DDaT framework, the amount the role could be defined/ specified was rather limited, and instead became more of a suggestion rather than a clearly defined requirement.

The latest version of the DDaT framework has interestingly removed the suggestions that the role should be an SCS role, and any reference of the cross over with the responsibilities of SRO, and now makes the role sound much more ‘middle management’ again, although it does still specify ownership of the end to end service.

Ok, so what should a Service Owner be?

When we talked about the role a few years ago, the intention was very much to define how the traditional role of the SRO joined up closer to the agile/digital/user centred design world; in order to create holistic joined up services.

Below is (at least my understanding of) what we intended the role to be:

  • They should have end to end responsibility for the holistic service.
  • They should understand and have overall responsibility for the scope of all products within the service.
  • They should have responsibility for agreeing the overall metrics for their service and ensuring they are met.
  • They should have responsibility for the overall budget for their service (and the products within it).
  • They should understand the high level needs of their users, and what teams are doing to meet their needs.
  • They should have an understanding (and have agreed) the high level priorities within the service. ((Which Product needs to be delivered first? Which has the most urgent resource needs etc.))
  • They should be working with the Product/Delivery/Design leads within their Products as much as the Operational leads etc. to empower them to make decisions, and understanding the decisions that have been made.
  • They should be encouraging and supporting cross functional working to ensure all elements of a service work together holistically.
  • They should be fully aware of any political/strategy decisions or issues that may impact their users and the service, and be working with their teams to ensure those are understand to minimise risks.
  • They should understand how Agile/Waterfall and any other change methodologies work to deliver change. And how to best support their teams no matter which methodology is being used.

In this way the role of the Service Owner would add clear value to the Product teams, without adding in unnecessary hierarchy. They would support and enable the development of a holistic service, bringing together all the functions a service would need to be able to deliver and meet user needs.

Whether they are an SCS person or not is irrelevant, the important thing is that they have the knowledge and ability to make decisions that affect the whole service, that they have overall responsibility for ensuring users needs are met, that they can ensure that all the products within the service work together, and that their teams are empowered, to deliver the right outcomes.

WomenInDigi19

How we as leaders can keep supporting people

Women In Digital Logo

As I sat listening to the conversations happening at the Women in Digital event on Wednesday, it occurred to me that although the point of the day was around creating more opportunities and continuing to support women working within digital, so many of the things that we talked about are also applicable outside of the digital industry.

Creating opportunities

One of the main points of discussion was how we can create opportunities. Opportunities through recruitment, promotion, to step up or work in new areas, to train and learn new skills, chances to take part in development programmes, attend conferences or speak at events. Opportunities for mentoring, to be a mentor or even just to job shadow someone. Those opportunities can come in all shapes and sizes and one of our roles as leaders is to make sure we’re creating those opportunities for people.

At the start of the event @Aaronjaffery mentioned that within the last year, DWP Digital has recruited for 9 new Senior Civil Service roles. For those they had almost 300 applications from men, but only 60 applications from women. However, of those 9 roles, 6 were filled by women who had applied and only 3 went to male candidates. This shows that the opportunities are out there but we need to work on encouraging women to apply for opportunities when they do arise. So what else needs to be done?

The right culture

We need to create the right kind of culture: the kind of culture that allows you to ask for help, to challenge things that you think aren’t working right, to admit that you’re not doing ok and need more support. The kind of culture that encourages people to check in with each other. @CheryJStevens did a fantastic keynote speech about her return to work journey a few years ago, the help and support she needed and the practical steps she took to successfully reintegrate into the workplace. As she so perfectly said: “It’s ok to not be ok, and to ask for help.” This message from a senior leader is really important and something we need to hear and talk about more.

Photo of Cheryl Stevens speaking at the event

Paying it forward

No one gets where they are without help and support, so it’s important to create an environment where you can pay that forward. For leaders to make themselves more available, offer coaching and support – creating those opportunities. It’s been nice to hear what organisations have been doing to create opportunities and the right culture for women to thrive in digital. It was great to hear from @ReneeNo17, Director of Digital Platforms at Sky, about their Returners Programme aimed at helping women return to work after career breaks, and the work they’re doing to increase diversity and be more inclusive. I know things like Digital Voices and Crossing Thresholds exist in the public sector to help women develop their skills, but we need more of this.

Building confidence

Whether it’s following a promotion, helping someone progress in their career or supporting someone returning to work, one of the key themes of the day was around people who have had their confidence knocked and needed to rebuild their faith in themselves. Running sessions that bust myths about who makes a good programmer and what skills they need was a good start. Following that up with opportunities to learn the basics of code in work was even better. It was great to see @SarahInTalent at the event, taking about @WILD_igital, a community in Leeds that was set up to grow and retain women in digital roles in the city. Schemes like Digital Voices where women can support each other to learn new skills and take up new opportunities are a great example of how DWP Digital is helping build skills, but all the women today cited how, most importantly, it has helped them build their confidence.

Online resources to help people learn to code

Support networks

One of the reasons I love coming to events like Women in Digital is because they’re all about building support networks, and I think they are so critical to all of us. Good networks give you all of the things I’ve talked about here. They can support you, build your confidence and encourage you. They can help you access new opportunities.

The other positive about networks is you can belong to many – none of us only wear one label. Intersectionality is important when considering things like how we get more women in digital, as we don’t want to only get more white women, or straight women, or women who went to Oxford University. It was great today to hear from lots of different women about their journey, and it’s always good to be able to hear about and consider perceptions and experiences different to our own. I want to keep widening that circle. Our networks can work together to build each other up.

@YanYanMurray and @Zoe_On_the_Go at the event

For me, days like today let me check in with my ‘tribe’. Even when we’ve all been busy, events like this are an opportunity to set aside time to focus on yourself and your development and see what is happening in the wider world, to consider that wider bubble, to challenge your assumptions and keep adding to your network; and that is really important. We gain skills and develop ourselves the more we work together to share our knowledge and experiences.

Be Brave and Believe in yourself

A guest blog written for @DWPDigital originally posted here.  

DWP Videos featuring me!

To celebrate Ada Lovelace Day our colleagues share how they’ve been inspired by Ada and other influential women in tech & digital.
In this video Zoe Gould and Arunan Thaya-Paran from DWP and other colleagues from across government give their reflections on the day and the wider theme of why collaboration is so important.
Building the Product Manager Community across Government

Finding your tribe. My path to the Civil Service:

That’s been some great stories shared on twitter today, and it really got me thinking about why I joined the Civil Service, and why I’ve stayed in the public sector.

Homeless till I was almost 4, I grew up on a council estate, daughter of a single mum, and like many others seemed to do, I joined as a temp.

A friend of my Mums worked at the Defense Vetting Agency (part of the MoD) and suggested I take a summer job there between college and university.

Seemed simple enough, but I failed the test the temp agency set. I have Dyspraxia, and my typing accuracy wasn’t high enough. But the MoD (or more accurately my family friend) agreed to give me a trial anyway (as long as I didn’t tell anyone else about my Dyspraxia in case they thought I couldn’t do the job). I worked there as an AO for three months and then headed off to university thankful for the extra cash in my pocket.

I was asked if I wanted to stay on at the MoD and build a career in the Civil Service, but I was the first in my family to get into university and I was determined to make the most of it; with dreams of becoming an anthropologist in my mind. So, I worked there as an AO for three months and then headed off to university thankful for the extra cash in my pocket.

3 years, a 2:1 degree and a load of student debt later I returned to the DVA. I’d decided anthropology wasn’t for me, ended up with a degree in politics I didn’t know what to do with, and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life now, so the DVA seemed a good place to work while I came up with a plan.

I was welcomed back with open arms and asked if I was aware of the Fast Stream graduate scheme. I wasn’t, but figured why not give it a shot. I spent three years on the Fast Stream with the MoD in London, working on various policy areas (if we’re ever in the pub together ask me about the most common FoI requests the MoD gets) and doing a stint in project management, before a relationship breakdown forced a move back home to the North.

I spent a year on loan to the Department of Health working on policy consultations and legislation changes before I was offered a role in the Department for Works and Pensions.

The DWP quickly became home, and I had the chance to work in the commercial strategy team and within benefit centre operations before being asked to join the newly forming digital team as a Product Owner.

If DWP was my home, the Product Owners were my tribe, and it was this role that really sparked my career and made me feel like I finally belonged. I spent over a year working in that team before I got a promotion to G7 within the relatively newly formed Government Digital Service where I spent 18 months learning that I had a lot to learn when it came to agile development!

I returned to DWP again as a Product Owner with a spring in my step and new tools in my digital arsenal, a year later I got my G6 as a Digital Service Manager, and 18 months later I was asked to take the Head of Product role on TDA to SCS, and here I am.

So 12 years, 4 Departments and 5 grades later what have I learned?

1. Not to be ashamed of my disability. Its part of who I am. The same as my gender. My sexuality. My religion. My love of Harry Potter. They are the things that make me ‘Me’.

2. That I couldn’t have got where I am without help and support to grow and develop. That my job is to help and support others to grow and develop themselves.

3. That nobody is perfect. Imposter Syndrome is a thing, but even those people you think have it all together, don’t. We all need to be more honest in owning our strengths and weaknesses.

And why have I stayed?

Because this is where I belong. I passionately believe in what we as Civil Servants do. We want to make things better. We want to solve problems for people. We’re not here for the money but for the purpose. And I’m so proud of all I’ve achieved, of the people’s lives I’ve positively affected.

I believe you have to enjoy what you do, you have to be passionate about it if you want to do more than simply work to live, and for me the Civil Service gives me that sense of purpose. The people are the things that make any job bearable, and the people here are the very best.

They are my tribe.

Changing perceptions of Women in Leadership

Originally published at digileaders.com on November 3, 2017.

Zoë Gould, Head of Product and Sue Griffin, Head of User Support Services; DWP Digital

Last month we delivered a breakout session at the Women into Leadership conference in Leeds.

The conference is about managing the challenges of modern leadership, recognising and rewarding female leaders, and enhancing leadership opportunities for women so they can build skills to become the leader they aspire to be.

Redressing the gender balance

In DWP Digital we’re changing lives by transforming the services we deliver, using new technologies and modern approaches to improve things for our users. DWP is huge — we’re the biggest government department — we support 22 million customers and release over £168 billion in payments each year. We’re working to solve important issues, supporting people when they are at their most vulnerable; in order to transform our services we currently work on 50 million lines of code and have around ten thousand IT system changes per year.

However, there is gender imbalance in DWP Digital as we have a shortage of female specialists and leaders — a challenge we share with many large digital organisations where less than 25% of digital roles are filled by women.

We want to change this and improve the gender balance.

The size and scale of our work offers up a lot of scope for a career in digital technology — so how can we change perceptions to help women develop in a digital career?

Well, in DWP Digital, we’re making progress.

We have our Women in Technology group, with a pretty active core membership of people who are keen to maximise the value of being part of this community. People who want to improve gender equality and help members reach their full potential by encouraging personal and professional development. We’re working hard to avoid having all male panels at events, and we’ve developed a list of more than 350 women who work within digital and are able to speak at events.

We’re also developing a ‘Digital Voices’ programme initiative to build confidence and engagement skills in women in DWP Digital.

And in June we ran a Women in Digital event, which was open to delegates from across the sector, including cross-government and external private sector representatives.

Normalising, not diversifying

In DWP Digital we’re driving an ethos where a diverse organisation is seen as the norm; where it’s possible for women to be leaders and have our skills valued. One of the biggest hurdles isn’t the technology — its culture.

We’re aspiring to be an inclusive organisation where the outcome is the focus, and to get there we collaborate and develop together regardless of gender, race, sexuality or disability.

Being open and talking about the changes we need to make and why, is the first step, so we’re vocal on social media and through our blogposts. Taking action is the next step, so we’ve set up diversity groups and we have a diversity charter. We’re making sure our recruitment process is fair and that we have mixed panels at interview. We’re engaging our communities by telling our story.

But we know there is still work to do on breaking down the perceptions of digital and technology. We know the words themselves sometimes put women off from considering careers or roles within this area, and now we need to consider what we can do and how we help break down those perceptions. We need to talk more about the non-technology specialist roles, about the skills and characteristics we need within digital. We need to look hard at the language we use and consider how we be more inclusive with the words we use.

Why not check out Digital Leaders’ 2017 Attitudes Survey Results to see the key takeaways about view on Women in Tech.

Bringing Product and Design together to build a user centric culture

Why bringing Product and Design together is such a good idea.

Within the Product Management community we often talk about the importance of the Vision and how critical a prioritised backlog is. Making sure we understand our users needs and making sure we deliver quality services that meet those users needs.

Recently Service Design as a principle has been more widely embraced, and within Governments Digital, Data and Technology Professional Capability framework Service Design is now recognised as a role within its own right.

Within DWP the User Centric Design community has always been strong, brining together the Service Designers, Content Designers, Interaction Designers, Front End Developers and User researchers. Passionate people who want to design make sure we are designing our services around user needs.

Within the last year we’ve recognised the benefit of expanding our Product community to include not only our Product Owners and Managers, but also our Business Analysts and Business Architects. Those passionate about developing visions and products based on user needs, making sure we understand our processes and the vision and strategy for moving forward.

But so much of what those communities do, so much of what they are passionate about is the same. We all want to solve problems for our users, be they claimants, other government departments or our own staff. We want to do the right things for the right reasons. We ask “Why” a lot.

So it made sense for us to bring the Design and Product communities together into one overarching ‘family’; to share what we’re doing, to talk about what we all do and why, to share ideas for how we move our services and products in DWP forward.

To celebrate bringing our communities together, I organised and ran a conference to talk about Product and Design; how we could best work together to develop DWP’s User Centric culture, and ensure User Needs were at the centre of everything DWP delivered.

I found the day itself really positive. Lara Sampson, our new Product Design Directory, kick-started a jam packed day full of energy and enthusiasm. It was great to talk to people I hadn’t really had chance to talk to before. To learn more about some job roles I might be less familiar with, and I look forward to our next event when we’ll have even more members of our Product Design community there to celebrate with us.

The day was also a poignant one on a personal level as we said goodbye to those leaving DWP to move on to pastures new. On a personal note I had to say goodbye and thank you to Ben Holliday who has for the last year been DWP’s Head if Design, my co-conspirator, confidant and beacon of sense and stability. I’m very sad to see Ben go, but delighted that he had this new exciting opportunity to explore. Just know that the Product Design community would not exist today without Ben, he helped make us what we are and we are all incredibly greatful!

But for now, onwards and upwards, there is anyways more to do, and I for one am excited to see what our Product Design communities can deliver working closer together than ever.

This blog was originally written for @DWPDigital

The strength of Product People in Government

For those that don’t know me I’m Zoe, proud mum, avid geek and currently the Head of Product at the Department for Works and Pensions.

At the start of this year, we in the DWP worked with the Goverment Digital Service to host the first ever cross-government Product Management conference.

Why? Because we wanted to bring together all the Product Managers and Owners currently working within government to celebrate our achievements, grow our community, and look at what more we could all do to keep driving our work, our profession and us as individuals forwards.

The event was, I believe, a massive success, we had speakers and representatives from a wide variety of departments, the community nominated to topics that it wanted to discuss and we all got a chance to network and share stories. I got a lot out of the day, not only professionaly, but personally. But, that event was never designed as a one-off, and the main thing I and many others took from the event, was what more can we do?

So what have we done since then?

Well, we’ve expanded the Product People community dramatically, we’ve grown the network outside of London, and started having regular gatherings of Product People in the North.

We’ve got the Product Management career pathway into Beta and being used by most departments within government. A handful of the Heads of Product are now getting together regularly to share news and updatesand we’re using this group to share recruitment plans, job or secondment opportunities, training and development ideas, for example.So we’re building consistency and collaboration to benefit all those working in the profession within government.

We’ve continued to work with the Digital Academy to deliver the Product Owners working level course across government, and started development on the first Product Management masterclasses, that will begin role out shortly.

We’re starting to offer cross-government mentoring opportunities for Product Managers, and building those networks between departments, allowing us all to workmore closely and learn from each other.

Many government departments are now recruiting for Product Owners and Product Managers up and down the country at various levels. This gives us all a great opportunity to grow our community and keep building the user-centred culture we need in order to solve the right problems and deliver the right things.

Product Management is a very exciting place to be right now, and planning for the next conference is now underway, with HMRC taking the lead this time, and I for one can’t wait to see all we’ve delivered in the last 6 six months together.

You can read more here about what our Product Owners in DWP do, and what we’ve been doing to build our community:  https://dwpdigital.blog.gov.uk/?s=Product