India Perry is a Civil Service fast streamer who was recently parachuted into HMRC in a Product Manager role for a multi-million user transactional service. With little digital experience, working within a highly collaborative, very experienced team, India had quite a learning experience & shares some of the things she learned along the way.
Product Management in Government
In most ways, product management in the civil service is the same as product management anywhere – the main difference is that you need to be aware of ministerial priorities and policy decisions, as they can publically impact your timelines and decisions. And, of course, the potential impact of the products you work on is huge.
Moreover, while most product managers are building for users who are not themselves, this is even more prevalent in government. In India’s case, she was working on the Payment Service component of HMRC, but her tax is handled invisibly by her employer, so has never had to deal with the challenges of her users.
Agile v.s. Waterfall
(or “Agile v.s. Government”) As you might expect, the biggest challenge of digital delivery in government is the culture shift. Currently, digital product teams are working in the world of Agile, but reporting to the world of Government / Waterfall – as you can imagine, iterative releases are challenging in a civil service environment!
While there’s an accepted commitment to switching to more agile processes in the civil service, it is often commitment without an understanding of Agile, such that stakeholders still expect detailed sign-offs of product scope and delivery timelines before projects kick-off! As such, part of the role of building product inside the government is to evangelist a more agile and iterative approach.
Although the civil service has a culture of being heavily process-driven and resistant to changes to those processes, this is – gradually, and with every new successful delivery – changing! Given that environment, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing the people embedded in those legacy processes as a source of pain. However, don’t forget that they probably know a lot about the existing systems, and have access to a huge body of knowledge and data. Work with them to understand what’s happening!