https://digitalhealth.blog.gov.uk/2016/08/23/product-owner-role/

Guest post: Stepping into the product owner role

I was lucky enough to be offered a place on the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) digital academy Product Owner course a couple of weeks ago over at Leeds One. This post is about what I experienced on the 3-day course.

Although I’ve done lots of non-agile programme and project management in the past I’m quite new to digital and agile. My digital experience is limited to the discovery on the Healthy Start scheme which is nearly complete (read the introducing the Healthy Start discovery blog). I recently got the practitioner qualification in Agile Project Management (the DSDM version the civil service has adopted) which has given me a decent grounding, but my only agile experience so far is on the Healthy Start discovery.

The course started with a revelation for me… I am the product owner! I’d been calling myself programme manager up to that point, and I still see myself as delivering that role, but I’m doing something more fundamental than that as well, which is captured by the product owner role.

Officially, the product owner (PO) is “responsible for maximising the value of the product and the work of the development team”. It took a few of us on the course, especially the non-DWP people, a while to get our heads around the PO role. I’m still not sure why this role isn’t in the GDS manual list of roles. It’s a standard digital role across government, but you need to look to the scrum guide for the description. There is an ongoing debate in agile circles as to whether the term product owner is interchangeable with the term product manager. Among those who see them as different roles there is debate about whether they can be done by the same person. I’m starting to think it might be a good idea to get an agile coach in if we do proceed to alpha!

The course helped me understand the digital path in more depth – from building empathy with users in discovery, testing assumptions in alpha, to building the working service in beta and onto live and beyond. I understood it up to a point before, thanks to coaching from the DH digital team, but now I can explain it with more confidence to other people, which is pretty important when you’re working in an organisation that’s still learning digital.

There was a lot crammed into the course, beautifully illustrated by one of the delegates  – you can view these on Twitter: day 1, day 2 and day 3. It made it an intense course, and I’m in no way an expert yet on the techniques we covered like impact and story mapping, but the course gave me a decent grasp of the concepts, which will help me navigate and play a more useful role on the Healthy Start digitisation.

The learning from the course material was fantastic, but what made the course even more valuable was having DWP delegates on the course who were much more experienced at digital and agile. I learnt from the questions they asked and the experiences they shared. And it was enlightening to see how the DWP teams in Leeds One worked.

One of the course delegates gave us a tour of his work area in Leeds One and talked us through how they delivered their work. It emphasised for me some of the things we need to do in DH to help our teams work in an agile way on digital projects, such as creating agile work spaces and improving the technology staff have access to.

We also need more training. So it was great to hear that the digital academy is opening its courses to other departments. DWP are also opening up other support mechanisms, like the product owner email group and a buddy/mentor scheme - I’m really looking forward to getting involved in both. Great work DWP and your digital academy!

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