Fellow product managers and product leaders: have you ever had a moment when you’ve asked yourself, “am I really doing good with my product?”
I really enjoyed Kim Goodwin’s talk at Mind the Product London 2018 and it made me think. Why don’t we ask ourselves a simple question when we create our products and services: are they humane?
Kim’s talk was about human-centred design but it can easily be applied to humane product management.
Let’s all agree to ask ourselves a question when we create our products and services: are we making life better for our users? In fact, let’s go wild and ask ourselves two questions:
- Does our work help better meet the needs of users?
- Does our work mess with needs being met in the broader world? That is to say: in meeting needs through our product/services, do we mess with other needs being met elsewhere in society?
How might we understand “needs” in the simplest, most universal way possible? Kim suggested that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs might help:
|Self-actualisation||Life-partner – Parenting – Utilising abilities – Seeking happiness|
|Esteem||Status – Self-respect – Self-esteem|
|Love/belonging||Friendship – Intimacy – Family|
|Safety||Personal security – Financial security – Health and well-being|
|Physiological||Food – Water – Sleep – Shelter|
Let’s agree that our product and services will improve these needs being met for our users, and won’t mess with these needs being met in broader society.
User-centred Public Services
I’m part of the excellent community of product managers who work on public services within government. In the UK we have made significant progress towards ensuring that our digital public services are humane, by supporting a shared culture of user-centred design. Digital services created by central government departments are typically expected to follow user-centred design principles – this has been codified within government as the Digital Service Standard, which starts with the principle that we should understand user needs. Services have to meet this standard or they are not allowed to proceed – it’s a real commitment to meeting the needs of users. I’m Head of Product for the Ministry of Justice so I meet and recruit lots of product managers within government and it’s heartening that our commitment to principles of user-centred design as described in the Digital Service Standard is the biggest single reason that people join us: they want to do good and help people.
If your organisation is wondering how to become more humane, then this might be a great way to start your journey. The Digital Service Standard will soon be updated and become the Government Service Standard – a new name to reflect its ambition to become useful for the whole of government.
So all anyone needs to do to create humane products and services is to follow the lead of government? We can all learn and improve no matter where we are on our journey. Kim’s interesting point was that user-centred design can sometimes be reduced to ‘metrics’ and being ‘data-driven’. Kim’s thought-provoking point is that data has no conscience and can cause us to lose sight of our true impact on the real world and society as a whole.
We should be driven by goals and values – just data-informed.Kim Goodwin
If one of our goals is to be truly humane then how might we as product managers go beyond being user-centred in order to get closer to understanding the impact of our products and services on society as a whole? Kim suggested that the Nuremberg Code might provide a starting point for us – I’ve taking the liberty of adapting it to create a checklist for product, services, and organisations as a whole to use to ask themselves if they are being humane:
Our product/service/organisation should:
- Have the voluntary, well-informed consent of our users
- Aim at positive results for society that cannot be achieved some other way
- Be based on insights that justify the work
- Be developed in a way that protects the needs of users
- Not go ahead if it risks jeopardising users’ needs
- Ensure that any risks are proportionate to the expected humanitarian benefits
- Adequately prepare to protect users against any risks
- Have staff who are fully trained and qualified
- Be able to stop if users report that it is making their situation worse
- Likewise be able to stop if staff report that it is making the situation worse for users.
Let’s agree as product managers that we’ll ask this of our products and services – even if it’s just to ourselves, to check that we’re working in a humane way. And let’s agree as product leaders that we’ll ask this of our portfolio and organisation as a whole – no doubt a lot of us have take part in work in which we prioritise based on business benefits – can we make more space to prioritise based on whether what we’re doing is humane?
Products and services are more than pixels and code – they’re the result of a series of organisational decisions.Kim Goodwin
Let’s all decide to be humane in our role as product manager this year.