Evolving Product Management in Large Organisations "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs 3 June 2016 True Agile, Change Management, Civil Service, Culture, Large Organisation, Waterfall, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 610 Will Garner talking about evolving product management in the civil service at ProductTank London Product Management 2.44

Evolving Product Management in Large Organisations


Will Garner is the Head of Profession for Product Management and the Home Office, where product management & service design are relatively new practices (even though, at it’s core, government is mostly service design!) Building product in government comes with some interesting challenges – on the one hand, you’re building things that matter, but that also means that the pressure to build things well and have a positive impact is huge (think preventing terrorism, managing immigration, reducing crime, promoting economic growth). If you want to learn about product management in large organisations, there are few organisations as large, or with as much inertia, as a government.

Small Culture Shifts Come First

The first challenge when trying to update the practices around product management and service design is triggering a shift in culture. Government in particular rewards individuals for following processes, rather than for innovating or deviating from process for better outcomes. Agile is uncommon in the civil service, and the intense scrutiny it is subjected to means that iterative releases (i.e. allowing things that are “not ready” to be used by the public) are a hard concept to swallow.

Will hints at a few approaches that allowed a culture change to start happening in the civil service: get people to see User Research first hand, and build more empathy with real users. Start showcasing unfinished work for feedback, and make that iterative design process the norm. With this in mind, Will walks through the process of updating the visa application process, which was a perfect pilot project – painful, slow, change resistant, and yet high-traffic & high impact.

Find the Products, then Evolve Them

Having gotten to the stage of tackling the visa application process, the next challenge revealed itself: it was unclear how many “products” are involved in immigration. There are 290,000 words of legislation, but how can that be turned into a catalogue of “products”?

In this case, the team turn the law into something “machine readable” (i.e. established the logical rules within the legislation, and codified the dependencies in the system), so that it could be dynamically adapted to individual customer’s experiences. Effectively, the team built a platform to drive the entire immigration process. In the process they codified all the components that a visa is made up of: Permissions, cost, length of stay… which doesn’t just enable better service, but makes it easier to articulate what the service is to internal stakeholders.

Glossing over a lot of hard work, it suffices to say that within 6 months the new visa service was ready for pilot beta for work visa customers, and had become a solid foundation for digital transformation across the Home Office.

What’s Next?

If your pilot transformation project goes well, you may well find yourself a victim of your own success. This was the case in the Government Digital Services, who suddenly found themselves swamped with requests to build dashboards and sites to handle all manner of currently-arduous tasks. A few crucial lessons were learned in that process:

Be wary of tackling symptoms rather than causes. You have to actively make people uncomfortable by asking challenging questions about what they’re trying to achieve, and make sure you’re focusing on the real problem, rather than just papering over the cracks.

In adapting the thinking within a large organisation, recognise that you’re trying to drive people from thinking about Projects to thinking about Products, and you ultimately want to get them thinking about end-to-end Services.

When you want to instigate change in your own organisation, work out which challenge needs comes first, and who you need to make uncomfortable to get that first small culture shift.