×

Category: Product Management

What is the value in a Head of Product?

Our numbers are growing, but what is the role, and what value does it add?

When I first took up the role of ‘Head of Product Management’ back in October 2016, I was one of the first in Government to have the title, and within a few months there was a very small band of 5 of us, who were responsible for looking after the Product Management professionals within our own Government Departments. We were professional leaders, tasked with building capability and skills, and building communities of practice. The original job description we created for a Head of Product was very different to what I do now.

In my first 12 months of the role I focused on the people, working with the others across government to develop a capability framework, training and development plan and a career pathway that Product Managers could use to develop a proper career as a Product Manager within Government.

A lot of our time was spent debating the skills Product Managers needed, and what value Product Managers brought to Projects and teams. It was, upon reflection, a very inward focused role; which given the maturity of the profession at that time made sense. But several years later user needs have changed and I think it’s a good time to reflect on the value we Heads of Product now find ourselves adding within our work, and making sure everyone understands the work some of us are now doing and why. To discuss what that difference is between what we were doing and what we are doing now, and does everyone understand and agree that difference.

This change in the dichotomy of the Head of Product role came up at our last Head of Product catch up, for those of us in role a few years ago, we have all separately found that our focus isn’t purely on developing that community and the professional skills and capabilities of Product Managers anymore.

Instead we are now focussing on Product strategies, on aiding Prioritisation of portfolios, of working with Senior leaders to break problems down, understanding the value we are trying to gain, or the outcomes we are trying to achieve through the Products and Services we are developing. We’re running roadmap workshops across directorates, debating Targeting Operating Models and strategic alignment.

Most departments are now hiring ‘Head’s of Product’ or ‘Deputy Directors of Product’ to be part of their Senior Leadership teams within Digital, and personally I think that is the right move.

As organisations mature in their agile ways of working, the role of prioritisation has become ever more important, and as Product Management professionals, the ability to weigh up data and evidence to make decisions about priorities is our bread and butter. As organisational budgets continue to be constrained we all need to get better at focusing on outputs and understanding the value we are looking to deliver through our projects and programmes, ensuring we are meeting user needs whilst spending public money wisely. Determining priorities and ensuring we are delivering value for users are the fundamental objectives of the Product Manger role, and as such it makes sense to utilise those skills at an organisational level.

We are, in fact, much closer to our counterparts in the private sector determining Returns on Investment etc. than we have ever been before. Yes, we as Head’s of Product still work with Product Managers and teams to help them ensure they are meeting the standards and delivering value, and we still look at the resource demands of teams and make calls on which person within our professional community might be best placed to work on with Product; and in some departments the community is so big that actually they still need someone to focus onleading that; but for the most part, our communities and our people have grown along with us, and most don’t need the level of support from us as community managers that they did before.

#ProductPeople

Most of the communities now across government are self-sustaining, events like #ProductPeople are being set up and run by members of the community; and while we as Heads of Product are still here to help champion Product Management, and to support the people in our communities, the role of the Head of Product Management as a community lead, has adapted and gown into what our organisations need now, someone who can use those Product Management skills at an organisational level.

As such, I think it’s time we look at the Digital Data and Technology capability framework again for Product Management, talk to community, and review the job description for the Head of Product role we initially developed and iterate that. We need to understand the role of the community lead and the need for that, whilst also recognising the value of Product Management and the skills Head’s of Product can bring to our senior leadership and our organisations.

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

What does a Product Owner own anyway?

Recently Ross Ferguson wrote a great blog about why GDS chose Product Manager rather than Product Owner as the role title of its Product people.

Ross is right when he says that Product Management is the profession, and more widely understood by the wider industry, so why do we in DWP not use that term for our people?

I could be, and often am, glib about why DWP chose to stick with Product Owner, even after we stopped purely using SCRUM methodology, but a good conversation on twitter got me thinking about the debate again.

So what is a Product Owner?

The question on Twitter was ‘does Business Analyst + Project Manager = Product Owner?’ And while a good PO needs some of the skills from both of those professions, that’s not all they are.

For me, a good Product Owner is part Business Analyst, part project manager, part researcher and part service designer.

They have to analyse and understand the problems and options whilst also researching and understanding the needs of their users. They have to understand and manage the details whilst also being able to dream big and understanding the opportunities.

But they don’t own the analysis, or the research, or the plans or the design, they don’t own the code or the solution. Agile is a team sport, and as @Scott offer says a good Product Owner is the generalist in a roomful of specialists. They manage the backlog and make sure all the things happen, but they don’t own those tasks.

Product Owners are accountable for making sure we develop the right thing. That we solve the right problem. That we meet the needs of our users in the right way. But accountability and ownership are different.

So, if they don’t own the tasks, is it actually the Product they own? In smaller organisations, absolutely. But in an organisation as big as DWP do our Product Owners really own the full end to end service?

Honestly? 8 times out of 10 probably not. Most of our Products and Services are so big they can only be owned by the Senior Responsible Officer.

So what do they own?

The vision.

The vision is what makes or breaks a Product or Service. A good vision solves a bigger problem. A good vision is the difference between transforming something or redesigning it. A good vision challenges and moves us all on.

And that is what a Product Owner owns.

I don’t think Product Manager is wrong, and in the future the community in DWP may choose to being Product Managers, they are all empowered to choose the term that they feel fits best, but it’s not the term that resonates with me.

I own the Vision, it does not own me.

Sorry, for the geeks amongst you, this is Vision…. I’ll get my coat.

Originally posted on Medium

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