Parkinson’s UK is a pioneering and driven organisation; we’re transforming our organisation to ensure we are fit for a digital society. Establishing agile and product culture is critical to us becoming a modern organisation that continuously improves.
Cultural change is about changing behaviour and attitude, which is hard and takes time. We have around 500 employees all over the UK. Where do you start?
Think big and Start Small
Taking one of Barry O’Reilly’s lean mantras on board – think big and start small – I started with our product managers. Supporting their development, helping them to think and act as agile and product champions. I then focused on the product owners with a high level of responsibility. Together they formed the first version of the product community.
I’m using the Double Diamond to shape my approach to the rest of the organisation. I was struggling to find good thinking time, so I blocked out four days for a kick-off sprint. I used Roman Pichler’s Vision Board to map target users of the culture and their needs, as well as the business goals and the component parts of delivering culture change.
I also defined a vision:
Agile product management culture is the norm and is adding measurable value to Parkinson’s UK
Next I needed to research and understand the lay of the land. First I audited all the products we own, manage or use across the organisation. There are A LOT. We have internal off-the-shelf customisable products like our HR system and case management system. And we build and manage externally-facing products like our bespoke local support look-up tool and our online forum. One goal from this discovery is to create a portfolio view and establish shared processes so we can become more efficient and improve collaboration across all of our products.
Next was to get to know the product owners better. This is a large and varied group, with some more aware of product and agile than others. The brilliant thing was that pretty much everyone I spoke to was keen to learn more, understand this way of working better and crucially to work in a consistent way.
There is appetite for an agile product culture, hurrah!
The challenge now is how to create a culture and framework that works for such a wide spectrum of product owners and managers.
Don’t be Afraid to ask for Help
It was at this point that I became a bit stuck and overwhelmed. It is a huge task. I realised I needed to set up a regular feedback loop to get the reassurance and external validation I need along the way.
I reached out to a few colleagues, peers who are also leading elements of digital culture change or delivering work in an agile way. We agreed to trial a regular check in to support each other and spot opportunities to collaborate.
Regular feedback from my peers helped me feel less overwhelmed and more focused
Through all of this, I keep reminding myself that this is about people. Working on culture means thinking about the people who will use the culture, become part of it and shape it.
The users are not just the product managers and product owners. They are any staff members that might work with a digital product or service. Eventually I hope to reach anyone who will benefit from bringing agile and product approaches into their work.
To help stay user-centred I’m using the Mountain of Engagement and the Value Exchange Taxonomy from the Mozilla Open Leadership program. (I highly recommend this program.) These tools are helping me to work out the type of involvement different people should have, what I expect of them and what they can expect to receive in return.
Jump on Opportunities – Like World Product Day
The week before World Product Day I realised I could use it to increase awareness of product management here at Parkinson’s UK.
I gathered my team, had a quick brainstorm, fleshed out some ideas and then delegated a few tasks. The execution was definitely MVP-style, but it was a great success.
On the day we commandeered one of our break-out areas and filled it with balloons, books, and some homemade cookies. (Nothing like a bit of buttery, sugary goodness to entice your colleagues over.)
We invented some games such as Product Manager vs Project Manager, matching the responsibilities to the role. In another, we got people to place different elements in sections of the Product Management Venn Diagram – and explain why.
For colleagues joining remotely, we had a game set up in Google Sheets where you had to match the product to the animal based on its characteristics. For example, our Local Support tool signposts people with Parkinson’s to opportunities across the UK. So this was a bee: bees are all over the UK, and give each other directions to pollen opportunities.
Did we Achieve our Objectives?
Increase Awareness of Agile, Product Management and our Products
- 38 people joined the Show and Tells online, some of whom I had not come across before, so reach was good.
- 10-15 people dropped in, including someone with Parkinson’s who was meeting colleagues in the office that day.
- My most popular tweet of the day had 3,356 impressions, so we managed to raise awareness externally, which can help add weight to the message internally.
- All the cookies were eaten.
Demystify Product Management a bit
- The director of my department commented on how accessible and welcoming the day and activities were.
- At least seven colleagues gave me unprompted positive feedback about what they had learned on the day.
These are not massive numbers, but for an MVP-style event that was turned around with a few hours’ effort, I am pretty pleased. It’s something I can build on.
Establishing agile and product culture at Parkinson’s UK is a work in progress and there is a lot more to come. If you’re working on something similar and would like to connect you can reach me on LinkedIn or Twitter.