Fitting 5 days’ work into 3 days meant a week of back-to-back meetings. But it’s good in a way, it’s mobilising a lot of activity. Tiring but worth it.

Things I started

Kicked off the week by sending out a survey to the cross-government product people community, asking them to vote on themes for this year’s unconference. I organised one back in 2018 (Martin wrote about it) and another followed in 2019. Arfah and I began planning one for 2020 too, but then Everything Happened. What’s nice is I’ve been able to pick up from where we left it, even using the Trello board we put together. Did our future selves a favour there.

This week I engaged with our service owner a lot. They stepped into the role in the last week, and they’re keen to get across everything. In our initial chats, I spoke about wanting to run a test to check that the service was ready to onboard new users, which became the focus of the week. We had a couple of workshops with teams on the service, asking them what needs to be true to onboard those new users. Much of the service is ready to go, but there’s one big gap that needs sorting out.

Having identified that gap, we had a meeting with all the teams involved to discuss how we might close it up. A few teams from across the service were there, and we managed to get consensus on a process. After that I spent time with our programme delivery manager and our service owner’s delivery lead (possibly the same job?) to plan a workshop for next week, to bottom out the process and start planning work to implement it.

I’ve never worked with a service owner before. It’s similar to working with a CEO, in many respects, and I’ve done that before. They’re accountable for the quality of the service, which means my role as product manager is to facilitate teams in making sure it’s high quality, meets user needs and business goals. Being successful hinges on the relationship we have and good communication. My strategy for that is

  • no surprises
  • empower them to make decisions
  • meet regularly, and let information flow
  • be honest about what we can’t achieve, or shouldn’t focus on now.

They’re very receptive to focusing the programme on the MVP and being explicit about what we put aside for the private beta. That’s good, it shows an agile mindset. And without addressing it directly, we’ve found a way to work together and get things done. I’m feeling good about the relationship, it does feel like a productive one.

Things I shuffled along

Went over the problems, themes and insights we’d identified in research with one of our service designers. It was a simple case of adding the last few pieces to our running spreadsheet, which allowed us to talk over the problems, how big they were and who they affected. I like this bit. It’s when you get to dig into the specific problems users are facing and talk about potential solutions or a general direction to make things better. I used to think that was dangerous and you should prioritise problems before working on solutions, but I’ve learned that it’s OK to solutionise a tad. It’s creative work and you’re going to refine those ideas through design workshops and usability testing anyway.

On Thursday we prioritised the problem areas to focus on for the rest of the alpha: the areas for which we’ll prototype solutions and then test with users. Our designer pulled everything from the spreadsheet out onto a Mural board, grouping the problems and insights into thematic areas. There were 5 of us in the workshop: service designer, user researcher, interaction designer (a new joiner), delivery manager and product manager (me). Instead of using a numbering system like RICE, I wanted us to have more of a conversation around what we might prioritise, to see where we might get consensus. So I asked everyone to vote in response to two prompts:

  • Where are we least likely to have an impact on the service? Where should we not focus our prototyping and testing?
  • Now that we have a reduced set of things, where are we most likely to have an impact? Or what’s most complicated to figure out and is deserving of prototyping & testing?

It’s kind of like Impact/Effort rating, except without a 2x2 matrix. Doing it this way meant we spoke about our choices and the factors that played in to our decision-making. The responses were similar but different enough, and people weren’t parroting each other, which means we’re likely safe from groupthink. With a set of areas to focus on, we arranged a playback, ideation workshop and co-design workshop, to involve other teams in creating the solutions with us.

We tested a prototype with an internal team, but it didn’t go down well. That’s more attributable to how the workshop was framed instead of the content of the prototype. There was no scene-setting, no clear context on where in the service journey it would occur. We chalked it up as a learning and have put in another workshop for next week to try again.

Some puzzles

I looked over the legal & commercial terms for our service, and made a few updates to the boilerplates, but there’s a lot in there and I’m worried about making changes without a legal professional reviewing things. Next week I’ll have to go over those with colleagues and make sure it’s watertight.

For people who view service assessments as unnecessary or intrusive or user-centred bullshit, how might you help them see the value? I suspect there are blog posts out there. If you’ve been through this before, reader, please do get in touch.

Other things

Since last week I’ve had the tiniest of coughs and the beginnings of a stuffy nose. That got worse over this week, as busy days and lots of running put strain on my body (if the stress levels recorded on my smartwatch are anything to go by).

We took today (Friday) off to go walk more of the South Downs Way, but it’s raining all day. We’ll go tomorrow instead. (I could do with a rest day.) We started walking the national trail in 2017 and have done half of it. This weekend should see us complete the next quarter: from Amberley to Queen Elizabeth Country Park. I’m looking forward to camping on a ridge amongst the fir trees.

Since switching from Feedly to NetNewsWire for reading RSS feeds, I’m checking feeds more regularly. However, there is an annoying bug with the iOS app which can’t refresh all the feeds I follow and doesn’t stay updated with the Mac app. Despite that, I am finding much goodness in the feeds, lots of good reading. For example, Russell Davies has started posting his thoughts more regularly, which doesn’t deserve the apology he offered out to the RSS massive. More please!

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