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The Product Management Handbook for Government

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Agile, Our services, Product management

Product management can be a vague profession, unclear to those of us doing it and misunderstood by our colleagues.

So I wrote the Product Management Handbook for Government to help.

So what is it?

Are you finding it hard to figure out what you should actually be doing as a product manager in government? Or how to get a promotion? Or more simply: how do you actually create that roadmap that everyone’s asking you for?

Are you someone working with product managers  and want to understand what a product manager actually does with their time?

Maybe you’re just curious about product management and want to learn more?

If you’re one of these people then the handbook is designed to help.

I’d like to invite you to use, test and improve the white label Product Management Handbook for government teams (but probably useful for Local Authorities too, and possibly for charities and non-profits):

  • If you just want to stop reading right now and try it out - please do!
  • If you want to share feedback then you can speak with me via GitHub Issues, email me, or leave comments on this post
  • If you want to find out more about what this is and why it exists - read on.

Why create a product management handbook?

Product management has existed as a profession for decades. There’s a large number of books, blog posts, and courses that contain most of what we need to do our jobs - but they’re often written from a commercial perspective so there’s sometimes a need to tweak them to fit public services.

We also have product management skills and skill-levels published on GOV.UK - these are great for setting consistent expectations of product management across government and I use them to drive recruitment and performance management.

However there’s always room for improvement. We - Heads of Product in government and GDS - wrote these role descriptions more than two years ago and have learned a lot during that time. Product management has moved on since 2016, particularly the emergent identity for ‘product leadership’. These role descriptions don’t link to existing books, blog posts, and courses - which can lead to us missing out on useful helps, and assuming that we need to create it for ourselves from scratch.

So I decided to write a handbook for product managers at MOJ - taking existing books, blog posts, and courses and tweaking them to work in public services. Following months of drafting, testing, and iteration I published version one internally in July 2018.

Why share the handbook outside of the MOJ?

The majority of the handbook builds on the insights and openness of others - highlighting it, summarising it, contextualising it for government - so it’s important to repay the favour by making my handbook similarly open.

Peers from several other government departments asked if they could see and test the handbook. It was initially shared via Google Doc but many people couldn’t access it - so I decided to test the assumption that publishing the handbook online would make it more accessible to those who’d like to try it out.

This meant I had to review the content of the handbook, generalising it to to make sure it would work for organisations other than MOJ. I was concerned that generalising the content would reduce its value - in reality, this forced me to get to the intent behind the guidance instead of relying on implicit cultural shorthand - I think this makes the content more valuable, not less.

Was it worth it?

Almost 600 unique devices have accessed the handbook online in the 2 months since it was published, viewing pages over 3,000 times - all via a few Tweets and word of mouth.

Those aren’t massive numbers - but they show that the handbook has value outside a single department. More importantly than the metrics: product managers have got in touch to say they’ve used the handbook to help with a challenge their facing; and people interested in the profession have got in touch to say that it’s helped them to learn more about it.

Making things open makes things better - a principle that should be applied to the way we work in government, as well as the software code we create. How many things have you figured out in your own teams that other people would like to learn from?

This handbook is intended to open a conversation, rather than act as the final word. If you want to share feedback then you can speak with me via GitHub Issues, email me, or leave comments on this post.

Interested in joining us? Check out our latest vacancies at Digital & Technology careers

Are you a product person already working in government digital? Come along to the Product People event on 5th Feb 2019 in Birmingham - guest speakers, peer support and networking!

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1 comment

  1. Comment by TuneRain24 posted on

    Thanks for this article. Its really important for new generation.


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