Good Product Management is brought to you by Scott Colfer. This newsletter aims to find, support, and amplify people doing good with product management - putting people before profit. This month we hear about aligning teams from Tobi Ogunsina.
How to Align Your Product Team Before Starting Work
Hi I’m Tobi Ogunsina, a Senior Product Manager at the Government Digital Service. I regularly share thoughts on user-centred product management on my website via weeknotes and blog posts. Here are tips for aligning your product team before starting work.
This started with Discovery. People think Discoveries are a huge thing, but it’s just a way of checking you’re building the right thing for your users. However, when the phase isn’t started right it leads to hiccups later on.
I’d previously used ‘kick-off’ meetings when starting Epics in a product team. We’d talk about the user needs we were meeting before starting work. These kick-offs weren’t used on the team I joined in GOV.UK so I decided to introduce them.
It didn’t work well. There was too much information to understand in a single meeting. It wasn’t effective. So I worked with a Content Designer who put together a template that we could complete together as a team before the kick-off meeting. Our intent was to find out what we already knew, and what we needed to find out.
We tried this out when starting Discoveries. The team could ask questions and add comments before our kick-off. We collectively refined the document. It also helped to uncover our riskiest assumptions.
On a personal level, I process things better when I write them down. So this approach helped me a lot. Our shared document gave us a good sense of where we were. When we met for our kick-off meeting we already understood what we were trying to do, and why. We weren’t relying on a single meeting to align with each other and set ourselves up for success.
I’ve shared the template on my website. You can see that it’s simple, and that’s on purpose. It helped us to get the team’s contributions as early as possible. It got alignment quickly. Gave a sense of direction. And helped the team to take ownership, enabling this culture in the team. Something as simple as a shared document helped to align teams before work kicked-off.
We started seeing this approach help when starting many things. It worked at any level. Something big, like a Discovery. Something smaller, like an Epic. Or something smaller still, like a meeting that’s going nowhere. Kick-offs are generally useful. And they work best when the team’s already aligned through a shared document. Particularly during the pandemic when we’re working remotely.
Introducing this approach can be difficult if a team is unused to it. Developers might get frustrated about having to read documentation instead of being given work to do. It’s important to explain why it’s being done. It’s about explaining the value of conversations.
People come round quickly. I soon heard people say ‘maybe we need a kick-off document’ when a conversation was going nowhere. It became a healthy response to any ineffective meeting.
Every time I think ‘this is such a small thing, let’s just get started’ I always regret it. Something always comes up further down the line. Normally it’s that someone in the team doesn’t truly understand why we’re doing the work. Or why a decision was made. Sometimes people hear what they want to hear. Or might challenge something later. Forcing this into the open through a shared document means these things come up much earlier.
Avoiding this is seeding disagreement later on. There’s always an issue that takes more time to sort than a good kick-off document and meeting.
Name: Tobi Ogunsina
Role: Senior Product Manager for Government Digital Service
Current product: GOV.UK accessibility
How I got into product management: I started in electronics and electrical engineering then moved into design. In 2013 I moved to the UK to do a Masters. There was a module that covered design-thinking and user personae. This got me interested in user-centred products and is how I stumbled on product management as a role. Over time I became disenchanted with design and interested in a broader role like product management. I pitched this idea to my employer at the time and became their first product manager. They didn’t have a product culture so I ended up doing everything! After that I joined the Government Digital Service as an Associate Product Manager. Was promoted to Product Manager, and then to Senior Product Manager. You can read more about my career history here.
Why I work in a non-profit organisation: I didn’t come to this decision deliberately. But now I’m here, I really love it. I’ve always wanted to build things that people would actually find valuable. And the level of impact at GOV.UK is great. We help millions of people and our impact is easy to see. The scale of impact is amazing. There are few places you can work on something that affects so many people for the better. I’m currently working on improving the accessibility of GOV.UK for the 20% of our nation that often find web-services to be inaccessible. Working at the Government Digital Service has been an opportunity to see the value in focussing on the user and their needs above all else. It’s the first time I’ve worked in an organisation with this culture.
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