“What are examples of great product management in government?”
Top Answer
Benjamin Welby Lead Product Manager Government Digital Service
Top Answer
I was fortunate to work with several different product teams over my time at six years at GDS and the best teams were those where there was strong respect, trust and good humour between the people in the product, delivery and user research roles. Not as a narrow clique dictating what a team did but in having a unity that could clearly define a vision, defend the team from external distractions and create space for a team to explore how they responded to the most important thing: the needs of users.
I think the GOV.UK team has consistently used the roadmap as an important mechanism for not only clearly defining a vision and purpose for the team but for also building consensus externally with the many stakeholders they work with. The approach to the roadmap has already been written about in various places like this great piece on Mind the Product. Of course 4 years later the team works in a different way now but at that time this was such an important means of helping the maturing GOV.UK work more as a single team with a shared purpose and common vision.
In the last couple of years they've developed a mission based approach designed to create a shared rhythm for delivery across the product teams, allowing for greater visibility of planning and building in opportunities for people to move around the organisation, understanding a different perspective of their users and their needs. At its best this model has involved entire multi-disciplinary teams owning the needs of their users and responding to them collectively. Jen Allum, (now the Head of GOV.UK) wrote about it over a year ago and so it might be good to explore how they're approaching this now.
GOV.UK Notify
There are lots of excellent product teams across the UK government who are doing a fantastic job of meeting the needs of their users. I can't speak to the detail of how teams work so I can only signpost and say maybe you'd like to follow up with:
  • Sending money to prisoners (which helps with the broader policy issue of recidivism as well as making life better for families and prisoners).
  • Blue Badge service (which apart from the importance of the need they're meeting and they way they're doing it shows an incredible commitment to working openly by streaming their show and tell on Youtube every fortnight.
  • The prison team that's done 9000 miles to really understand the needs of their users.
  • Some (not all!) of the teams whose work is assessed here.

GOV.UK Notify is something I can speak to with more detail to highlight a couple of neat examples of great product management.

Crucially they started right. They were given the brief of building 'status tracking' as a platform to deal with the many phone calls that government fields about that particular issue. It's a simple equation: we stop phone calls by building a digital equivalent that replicates the interaction without a call centre agent. But then the team did their discovery and by going back to the underlying principles they understood the need to meet was preventing anxiety about status in the first place. They wrote about it here.

They weren't afraid to challenge that original direction in a way that got buy in from the top. So, when they built something they met a really well understood and clearly defined need not the 'obvious' solution to the assumed issue.

They developed a simple way of meeting the needs of the public but they also invested in the experience of the teams who would be using it themselves both in sending messages, and in integrating into existing processes with file uploads or redeveloped services with APIs. As a result they've had fantastic adoption, despite having no mandate for anyone to use their common platform. That experience has paved the way for establishing GOV.UK Pay and other parts of the GOV.UK Service Toolkit.

Product communities
A final area to highlight is the product community and the peer to peer encouragement and support that exists in the UK. Individual civil servants started the Product People community as an informal network and it has grown into something that meets across the country and defines a lot of the best practices for the way in which the UK approaches product. Scott Colfer, the Head of Product at the Ministry of Justice has been coordinating a brilliant resource in this product handbook which started life within his department but is now openly being shared (and is open on Github for contributions) whilst the team at 18F has also published their excellent Product guide.

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