Q&A for Scottish Digital Academy Roadmap session

Hokay – I have tried to address all the questions though I have grouped a bunch of similar ones together and I suspect I missed a couple – but I’m three hours in now so I’m going to have to stop!

Examples of roadmaps

Honestly this would have been easier a few years ago – the era of open roadmaps has passed somewhat (2018/19 seemed to be the peak of openness for roadmaps at least).

I appreciate the way GDS have approached public roadmaps in recent years – especially that many of them link to their Githubs with more detailed backlogs.

https://www.notifications.service.gov.uk/features/roadmap

https://www.gov.uk/roadmap

https://www.payments.service.gov.uk/roadmap/

https://design-system.service.gov.uk/community/roadmap/

Monzo used to have a great open roadmap but these days it is just their US expansion in public – it is less hi-def but you get the idea;

https://app.loopedin.io/monzo-usa-public-roadmap

I’ve collected a lot of examples of roadmap approached here;

https://jukesie.notion.site/jukesie/5611ee7c317b4d19a459fdb0bb3ca3ac?v=5834fb4efe3d4e05b09f38290daf303d

Product management without a product…in public service?

Scott Cofler had thoughts about this – https://scottcolfer.com/2017/09/17/value-manager.html

and I tend to agree with the issue – though I never liked the Value Manager idea much. What we do as Product People in public service is not a tidy fit to the wider understanding of product management – especially in Big Tech or start-ups. I prefer the idea of Mission Manager – something Nesta has endorsed. It is a mix of tech, design, product and agile thinking with a big dose of policy and business needs. This feels like the evolution of the role.

This loops back to my ideas of missions + roadmaps – if you have a clear mission then it is about bringing the skillset to land the most valuable, useable and feasible outcome for that mission. Regardless of job title.

Product management vs project management in Government?

Government at the meta level is not weaning itself off a project management culture any time soon – if ever. It is baked into almost every element of the ways of working from the very top. The governance and assurance relies on it and I believe the goal is to convince the powers that be that a user focused, agile, product thinking approach is not incompatible to the things that they actually care about. It isn’t a case of the inmates being in charge of the asylum, it isn’t chaos – it is fact a very disciplined approach that respects data and measurement and embraces realtime assurance. Even after a decade or so it is still seen as unserious and people playing with Lego and Post-Its – we need to change this.

…but I really haven’t found that product managers have become rebranded project managers (I think Delivery Management sometimes suffers from that though.)

Roadmaps vs Delivery plans and talking to Exec Boards?

My teams hate me for this but I think you have to do both – the only way we are going to build more support and understanding of product roadmaps is to get them in front of the right people and help them understand…and when they panic you need to be able to layer over something more resembling a delivery plan. Someday this will change but for now we still need to take them on the journey and compromise.

I think you have to play a long game with Exec Boards and the like – you have to build trust, it isn’t just given by default. You can’t just skip from traditional papers and plans to roadmaps and show and tells. Introduce elements, iterate based on feedback, do user research (i.e. speak to them or their offices). Find out what they really care about and convince them you have that under control. Be open and honest even when things are difficult.

My tendency has been to hammer home the mission canvas at every opportunity – why are we doing this, for who, with what and when are we aiming to deliver value. Just reinforce the approach at every opportunity. Even if it is wrapped in delivery plan chip paper.

How can a product or agile person change and influence the mindset of an organisation?

One person can’t. Doing that is a path to burnout – guaranteed. You need to find a coalition of the willing. Other believers. Then together you need to find a crack – a senior enough sponsor with a single project where you can demonstrate the worth of these ways of working. Think big, start small, learn fast.

How can you manage a hybrid Product Owner/Business Analyst role? Should these always be separate roles?

Honestly I think in agile environments they are regularly the same role unless it is a large brownfield project.

How to navigate fixed dates in law and products being forced to move to the next phase no matter what?

I actually think this is where agile product approaches shine if given space to work. If you are have a fixed date then define what is the minimal viable outcome to meet those expectations and work to that – adding value right out to the deadline. If you let the team define the output in the course of the work rather than upfront you really see the benefit of these ways of working.

Product Manager vs Delivery Manager – who owns roadmap and why do you need the two roles as there is overlap between the two roles and dont always play nicely

I’ve written a lot about this but this was the most recent – https://digitalbydefault.com/2020/05/06/it-takes-two/

Who was the dream in years quote from?

DJ Patil

How would you manage being boxed in to an agile delivery for a project that doesn’t suit it (or suit having a Product Owner attached)?

My experience is that calling out when projects are better served by more waterfall style methods than agile wins more friends in the organisation in the long term – a willingness to avoid dogma is a strength and people appreciate that I think. 

What’s the significant differences between a Story map and a Product roadmap?

Story maps are a UX method for showing the wider journey via tasks and Roadmaps are a planning/comms tool – there really isn’t much crossover.

How ambitious can we be in the “later” column – we are here to serve the govt / our products deliver govt’s aims – important to acknowledge civil service role.

Well you need to be ambitious in line with the mission outcome you are seeking – it isn’t science fiction or anything but it should be a stretch goal – the things you’d love to achieve if everything lined up and you had the people and investment of your dreams. Great things happen when civil servants are ambitious.

Do we conduct workshops 1st before getting into Roadmap? we do both simultaneously? what are steps to be followed from strategy to release/ getting into sprint? 

This is my approach for what it is worth- https://web.archive.org/web/20220128163957/https://foundry4.com/laying-foundations 

Though I really like this from Monzo – https://monzo.com/blog/2023/08/03/how-we-launch-new-products-at-monzo 

This series of posts from back in the day by Futurelearn are still brilliant – https://medium.com/@FutureLearn/a-futurelearn-guide-to-product-roadmaps-introduction-61d21942eb2e

Is it worth adding Done to the Roadmap to show how far you have come through the journey?

Yep – I always like this.

do you have examples of how the live operation service teams successfully feed into the roadmap & subsequent plans – seems to be a gap in the theory

I think this is more common than not – good roadmaps are developed by speaking to as many people involved as possible and my experience is that an enormous amount of insights come from speaking to operations teams – any product team making decisions without tapping in to this has bigger problems than the roadmaps. There are different ways of engaging them – but at a minimum they should be interviewed by the UR or BA and preferably should have representatives invited to all relevant workshops.

Technical Product Manager vs Product Manager – what is the difference and how would you apply what Matt has said today in terms of roadmaps, mission statements

From my POV the only difference tends to be the background of the person – TPMs tend to come from STEM backgrounds and work on platforms, data and ‘backend’ systems and the rest of us come from Humanities or Business backgrounds and work on user-centric products…but that is a terrible generalism. I’m in the Humanities camp but a lot of my career has been platforms, data science and machine learning teams.

The rest of the work is pretty much the same – just different users and stakeholders.

What is the difference between a service owner and a product manager? 

I think it is a very blurry line – especially Service Owner and Product lead. In fact I don’t really agree with them being different. In theory the Service Owner has broader responsibilities outside of DDaT and more influence on the entire end to end journey…but I think that should be the Leads job anyway.

How/ can you surface a clash between the user-needs and individual (internal) priorities in a roadmap? We have this issue a lot.

Honestly this needs to be resolved in the workshops where you prioritise and build out the roadmap. You will almost always need to address some internal issues/priorities on the path to delivering a mission – the goal is to make sure any trade-offs are actually helping get you to that outcome and not just a vanity priority. It isn’t easy and I tend to prefer not to pollute the roadmap artefact by calling it out there but deal with it around the roadmap.

Horribly political answer – sorry.

Do you include or signpost stakeholder consultation in your roadmaps?

It depends what you mean I guess. I think every roadmap needs to start with some kind of stakeholder consultation / user research otherwise it is all guesswork. Beyond that product teams should have a comms plan/strategy and be engaging with stakeholders throughout – using the roadmap as an anchor for the comms.

Any advice for someone who isn’t a “Product person” but is being moved into that space as the product requires substantial change/improvement?

This is ancient but I wrote this once upon a time for people who woke up one day at ONS and found out they were now a Product Owner – https://digitalbydefault.com/2016/05/24/being-a-product-onser/ 

Honestly my best advice is to lean into the x-Gov Product community – there is a great Slack channel with loads of supportive folk. 

Follow the instincts that got you there – being user focused and having empathy for the internal challenges is more powerful than any agile framework. 

Diff between product manager who is designing and building a digital product vs a PM who is managing a COTS product for a service – who doesn’t own the roadmap

I think it is difficult but still possible – you don’t own the tech roadmap but you still own the sequencing of delivery, support, training, communications etc – so you control the delivery of value. So there is still plenty of things to plan and thus roadmap.

Most if not all product management is trying to influence without authority so in this scenario you just have the additional wrinkle of having to influence a supplier  

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