Work thoughts

I didn’t work at GDS this week, I spent the week working with General Assembly, teaching product management to people from H&M. I’ve been an instructional associate for two years and talking to other companies about how to do product is always enjoyable. Mainly because I’m able to bring so many stories from GDS, about its success and ways of working, to people who are struggling to get to grips with a new mindset.

‘If the UK government can do it, I’m sure we can.’ That was someone’s response to adopting agile this week. It made me really proud, and thankful that I work in an organisation that has made that change. I’m grateful that I can coach these people, albeit briefly, in how to do it.

For much of the week, the learners were asking about the product manager’s role and where their responsibilities end. ‘Should the scrum master fulfil this role? Is it too much for the capability lead to do X? Is it right that the product manager shouldn’t also be doing Y?’ The answer to these questions is often ‘It depends’, but I kept being reminded of one particular phrase: ‘The unit of delivery is the team.’

Job titles are helpful, yes, and it’s good to know which roles people should generally fill, but at the end of the day you’re just a bunch of people working together to do something. Find whatever works, and be open to changing your mind.

The section on continuous discovery was great, I always enjoy that bit. It was nice to tell them a story of how we validated hunches and improved things for users too. For example, when we noticed that mobile usage overtook desktop usage in 2019, we had a hypothesis that improving the search experience on mobiles would be beneficial. Screen estate on mobile wasn’t great, and we validated this with some guerrilla UX. This was enough data to cause us to care about improving the search experience on mobiles1, designing a better way to find things on GOV.UK, and this blog post describes what we did.

No one told us to do that. Our senior leadership team didn’t ask for it, but they did support our intention to improve it. And now the mobile experience is being brought front-of-mind in other parts of the platform too.

And that’s another essential factor of good product teams, I think: having the autonomy to discover problems and develop solutions for users.


  1. We also worked on improving the relevance of search results, which was continued by the team after I left it. However, having tried to search for things on GOV.UK recently, I’m really sad that our hard work has been reversed and search results are poor again. Fund teams, not projects.