Here’s a bunch of things I’ve learned about product management in Government over the years. I worked in the UK’s Digital Government from 2015-2022. I joined in the early years and learned a lot from the first generation of folks in the space. Then moved into a Head of Product role and helped shape, define and lead what the profession has come in the years since. This post provides links to posts sharing the main thing’s I’ve learned learned in that time.
What type of product manager are you? This post explains that product management means different things in different places. That’s OK. Just make sure there’s a good fit between how the role’s being used and what the organisation truly needs from the role.
What is product management in Government? This post on the MOJ blog summarises what Government needs from our role and what it looks like along the career pathway. There’s a longer version on my personal blog.
Value. Melissa Perri shared a wine-fuelled Tweet a couple of years ago saying that product management is about outcomes and value more than technology. I totally agree. Here’s my take on why ‘product manager’ is a bit of a rubbish way of describing our role, tbh, and that we’re really value managers. To help with this, I did some digging to figure out some high-level principles and guidance on how to measure the outcomes/value of our products (this definition is used for internal Service Assessment at the Ministry of Justice). I worked with a Cabinet Office Economic Analyst in 2018 and contributed to guidance on measuring product benefits.
Product manager role description, skills and career pathway. I co-authored the UK Government’s product management role description back in 2016 along with the other Heads of Product at the time, as part of creating the ‘Digital, Data and Technology Profession Capability Framework’ that’s still in use today. This was pioneering work and created one of the largest-scale, shared understanding and use of a role I’ve experienced. It was imperfect from the start and is more imperfect today. The Lead Product Manager role in particular leaves a lot of room for improvement, with the Lead PM description from the London Office of Technology & Innovation (originally developed by Royal Borough of Greenwich) looking better. But it remains valuable as an engine for open and fair recruitment, development and progression.
Product management handbook. I started managing other PMs back in 2015 and found myself repeatedly sharing the same blog posts and books. I started picking-up the Head of Product role in 2016 so pulled together links to these blogs/books together for the profession. 2017 and I got the Head of Product role permanently and decided to switch the links to a handbook with more explanation, and more tweaks to make it relevant for Government. I’ve updated the handbook yearly since, publishing this open version in 2018. This white label handbook remains a great tool for product managers. And it’d benefit from updates that reflect that last couple of years of developments in the world of product management. The handbook is published on GitHub where anyone can contribute. Here are some individual posts that expand on sections of the handbook:
- ‘The Lean Startup’ - notes for product managers
- The Agile Manifesto for public services
- Using the Strategyzer business model canvas
- Product roadmaps in 5 easy pieces
- Deciding on priorities - I contributed to this guidance on gov.uk that was intended to break the curse of MoSCoW prioritisation
- Ethical product management
- Why I’m not frustrated with the discovery/alpha/beta/live lifecycle phases
- Exploration (previously known as ‘pre-discovery’) at the MOJ
- Discovery in Government and 10 experiments you can try to improve your Discovery.
‘Technical’ products. I started off at as ‘hands-on’ product manager, helping to form a Platforms department. I learned a lot here. Two posts about this time are ‘The five stages of applying the Service Standard to technical stuff’ and ‘5 tips for successful internal platforms’.
Product leadership. Finally, if you’re looking to make the move from product management to product leadership then there’s ‘how I developed as a product leader’, ‘5 product management hacks for product leaders’, and ‘lessons learned from six-years leading a product management community of practice’.
All of the above is is imperfect. It has value but you can totally take it and improve it. On which note, there’s a lot of people within the Government product management community doing great things. Three that stand out to me are:
- Simon Manby is a senior product manager modernising lasting power of attorney by day and running cross-government product meetups (like this one) by night, they’re well-worth joining. Here are Simon’s top 5 tips for running remote meetups for product managers
- Debbie Blanchard runs a cross-government matching service for product managers looking for peer mentoring
- Rose Waite created a self-managed learning course called ‘cross-government introduction to agile’. Rose has previously shared tips on how to setup and maintain your own product community.
I’ve definitely missed people from this list, please share anyone you’ve seen going out of their way to help the cross-government product community.