Roadmap elements

This is a write-up of a discussion the UK government’s community of product managers held to agree which elements are important to include in our product or service roadmaps.

We think it’s worth agreeing these elements so that roadmaps are consistent and can be understood across our organisations, regardless of who’s looking and where they are viewed.

The elements are being posted here to invite comments and suggestions before being published as guidance on the Service Manual.

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A. Products should be judged on their delivery of value to users. Roadmaps are a tool to express what the value of a product will be and how that value will be understood and released in stages.

B. Each product has its own roadmap, or is represented on a roadmap providing a collective view of products related to a service. If user needs call for more than one instance (eg. simultaneously on a wall and one online), every version of the roadmap must be kept in sync.

C. Roadmaps are developed iteratively and regularly. Creation and iteration of a roadmap is a collaborative effort led by the product manager with the delivery team, stakeholders and the product’s users.

D. The roadmap is open and available in the public domain (unless there is a very good security reason not to).

E Roadmaps use simple illustration and plain English to provide information. This makes it easy for anyone to pick up and quickly understand how and why the product is being developed. They tell people where else to go if they need additional in-depth information (such as a product backlog or blog).

F. Roadmaps are framed by a vision explaining the ultimate outcome a product is trying to deliver. The roadmap is broken down into objective-based missions, each of which gets us closer toward achieving the long term vision.

G. Missions are outcome-based objectives with an explanation of what the goal is (often a problem to be solved) and how progress will be measured. Agreeing these missions involves conversations with users, the organisation’s leadership and the team doing the delivery.

H. Missions are mapped over time (eg. quarters). The segments of time on a roadmap are consistent. When the roadmap contains phases (such as discovery or beta) these should be timeboxed.

I. Roadmaps show what’s been done and what is coming next in order of priority. The method of prioritisation is transparent and consistent.

J. Roadmaps enable us to plan for change. They capture intent, not solutions. The further in the future a mission is, the more uncertain it is. The closer the mission gets, the more is learned and the more confident we become that it is the right thing to work on. Things can be dropped from roadmaps.

K. Each roadmap provides an explanation of who it’s for, how to read it, who maintains it, how often it is updated, and how to contribute to its development.

L. When roadmap software is used, the content should be exportable (preferably via API) to enable reuse.

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Product Manager or Product Owner?

In government, in practice, they’re synonymous. Because we care more about the responsibilities than titles, right?

But sometimes it’s a thing for some people. They raise it as if to suggest it’s an unresolvable ‘chicken or egg’ type of question. This is how I explain it.

In GDS we use Product Manager.

We don’t think Product Owner is wrong. Product Manager is just more us.

Product Owner is a Scrum thing. Like Scrum Master is a Scrum thing. We like Scrum but it’s not the only method we use. We want the people managing our products to be able to use a range of delivery methods. So using Product Manager is a signal of intent.

Product Owner is a term that’s used less frequently than Product Manager. It makes sense for us to use a title that people relate to when we are trying to attract the highest number of quality candidates to product management jobs in government.

Search trends for ‘Product Manager’ vs ‘Product Owner’
Worldwide results for ‘Product Manager’ jobs on LinkedIn
Worldwide results for ‘Product Owner’ jobs on LinkedIn

Product Manager is used by the majority of government organisations. And when digital, data and technology people from across government got together en masse recently to agree the roles and responsibilities we need to deliver better services, we settled on Product Manager. By saying ‘the majority’, that’s acknowledgement that the agreement is new and taking some time to percolate through.

Where it gets a bit confusing is in a few departments they have Product Owners and Product Managers. In these cases the Product Owners come ‘from the business’ and don’t have product management responsibilities. What they are is subject matter experts, who are very welcome helping delivery teams to understand the policy and operational realities. But we could be doing with calling them something else. Maybe just referring to them by their actual policy or operations role titles. That would make things clearer.

Fundamentally role titles evolve. We should hold onto them loosely to protect against hubris.

What we must spend more time and effort on is making sure that when we configure teams we give people a combination of responsibilities that are compelling and commensal. Google it.

Another tour of duty

I’m finishing up at MyGov and the Scottish Government’s Digital Directorate. It’s been a short gig but it’s been well-played.

Scotland’s is a digital future

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to represent MyGov. I’ve done my bit by negotiating the team through a period of intense pressure while also bringing longer term stability to the resources in the programme, and mapping out an ambitious roadmap for future delivery.

My decision is not a reflection on MyGov. I believe in the mission and I especially believe in the team. You have a huge amount of talent; you are going to continue to make awesome products and services for Scotland, and make people’s lives better as a result of your efforts – of that I am certain.

You are a resilient and self-supporting bunch, plus you have great leaders in Colin, Graham and Rachel, who will ably see you through this period as you stand up beta.gov.scot and begin developing mygov.scot again with gusto. And then there are the new starters lined up to join the team, who will complement your abilities and effort.

I’m not leaving government and I’ll remain a strong and active supporter of MyGov.

Back to the future

I’m really pleased to have been invited onto another tour of duty with the Government Digital Service. This time around I’ll be serving the community of product and service managers in GDS and around government in the UK – helping them to stay connected with one another, share their skills and get people excited about their craft.

I’m ridiculously excited about this new role. I’m looking forward to being back with old colleagues of course, but 3 years is a long time to be away and I’m even more inspired about working with the new guard there. There is so much energy in this new era for GDS and the challenges are compelling.

It feels like a good time to be going back to something different.

More on that anon.

Thank you @mygovscot

For the time being, it’s thank you, goodbye and good luck to my colleagues and friends in the Scottish Government.

Continuous improvement as a product manager

Continuous improvement – it’s the way to develop products. It’s also the way to be a better product manager.

I spend more time recruiting and directing product managers than I do being hands on with products these days. But because I love my trade and want to be the best coach that I can, I am always trying to up my game by learning new things.

Here are three ways I’ve been trying to improve as a product manager recently:

Better the devs you know

I am a product person who appreciates programming.

If I have a better understanding of the developer’s craft then my product vision is optimised, my explanation to the engineering team is more articulate and my appraisal of their efforts is better judged. Surely.

To that end, I’ve been steadily working my way through Codecademy’s courses, and by way of revision I’ve installed some of the Sololearn course apps on my phone, which are a better format for the commute.

Don’t send me your pull requests anytime soon. But it’s definitely broadened my thinking about the art of the possible… and the trade-offs. And it’s good to look at a team I work with everyday and see them in sharper focus.

The Jobs at hand

Ever since I started working in product management, it’s involved user stories.

And that’s been going great because user stories place more importance on the task someone is trying to complete when they are using your product than who they are or what my business’s requirements are.

But I’ve been hearing more and more about Jobs-to-be-Done and its application to product development, and I’m intrigued. It might be that ‘Job stories’ offer an even more relentless focus on what someone is trying to do and what their motivation is than ‘User stories’.

It might be that it’s time to make a switch or maybe there’s room for both in the mix of techniques I can use to make sure we are meeting user needs.

I’ve started asking my product managers to explore the possibilities of Jobs-to-be-Done, and Intercom has recently released a book on how they made the switch from user stories, which reads as a good, thorough introduction.

What a release

I’ve written a lot of release notes but I have started reading a lot as well.

It’s really easy just to hit ‘update’ and ignore the release notes; even easier never to acknowledge that release notes might be a thing produced for the service you use. I suspect that release notes are read only slightly more often than updates to T&Cs.

When you start to study release notes, you see there’s more variation between them than you’d first assume. Technical. Conversational. Brief. Detailed. But you can tell the difference between good and poor, well judged and lazy. Good products ought to have good release notes but not always.

I’m going to keep a book of examples, learn from them and see if we can get more users to take note of our release notes and use them as a means of engaging in a dialogue about what we’re developing and why.

Three improvements on before. But there is so much more to do. 

GOV.UK is going Worldwide

This post originally appeared on the Government Digital Service blog

Today we are very pleased to release the Worldwide section of GOV.UK, which explains the structure and activities of British government organisations in over 200 locations around the world.

Worldwide (www.gov.uk/government/world) is the new home on the web for the overseas web presences of DFID and FCO, and much of UKTI‘s international-facing content (ahead of a wholesale transition later this year). These location profiles will be frequently updated to set out the government’s response to international events, present case studies of diplomacy, development and trade in action, and provide information about senior staff responsible for overseeing that activity.

Continue reading “GOV.UK is going Worldwide”

Three months on – Inside Government’s traffic, demand and engagement in numbers

This post originally appeared on the Government Digital Service blog

They can’t tell the whole story but digital analytics are a useful and readily available source of information about how people are interacting with the GOV.UK platform and content. Continue reading “Three months on – Inside Government’s traffic, demand and engagement in numbers”

Inside Government – traffic, demand and engagement numbers so far

This post originally appeared on the Government Digital Service blog

It’s early days for Inside Government but we wanted to share some analytical data on user traffic, demand and engagement.

Inside Government is just three weeks old. We launched with five government organisations on 15 November and it felt good to get going. With no time to waste, another four departments will be joining the original five in a few days time. Continue reading “Inside Government – traffic, demand and engagement numbers so far”