PRODUCTHEAD: Becoming a service organisation
PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.
my iron product #
every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to
Context helps to make a service good as opposed to simply existing
By not consciously designing our services, we instead force our users to link actions together
Outcomes for users are core user needs that a service helps them to meet
A starting point can be to ask different teams what ‘good’ looks like to them
Does your organisation feel like it was built to mimic a factory’s assembly line? Or to deliver valuable services to people?
Still working like a factory #
Many organisations still model themselves on companies from the Industrial Age rather than the Information Age. You’ll recognise this to be the case if your organisation follows a largely linear process: it takes physical raw materials or input from people, performs processes on that input, and returns some kind of changed product as the output back to the people.
Departments exist in silos. Process is king. Uncertainty is swept under the carpet and forever ignored in a risk register or a permanently amber RAG (Red-Amber-Green) status in a dashboard. When something goes wrong, the response is usually ‘more process and oversight’, rather than to tackle the underlying causes.
Trigger warning #
I’m sorry if this sounds all too familiar. You might have experienced first-hand the optimism that Agile would transform your organisation for the better. Only now you find yourself disillusioned and working in a distorted hellscape of essentially the same governance and bureaucracy the organisation has always had, only now rebranded — in a perversion of the intended ethos — as ‘Agile at scale’.
Where does it all go wrong? And is there anything we can still do about it?
Where transformation goes wrong #
The answer to the first question is understandably complex. In simplistic terms, to truly transform, organisations need to make several significant changes to culture, behaviour, ways of working and mindset all in parallel. This requires long-term commitment from senior leadership, and is difficult to do well and in a coordinated manner.
Instead, where changes do occur, they are often disjointed, with differing levels of success and momentum, and in some cases fail to happen at all. Without the reinforcement that comes from coordination, or continued support from leadership, promising changes fizzle out after initial successes, fall by the wayside, or are subverted by internal politics back into how it used to work, just with different terminology.
What we can do about it #
Thankfully, the answer to the second question is: yes, there is something we can do about it.
The focus for this week’s edition of PRODUCTHEAD is Kate Tarling’s recent book, The Service Organization. She has encountered these challenges head-on in the UK’s public sector while helping teams to think about and structure their organisation more as a service provider than a factory.
Her hard-earned personal experience lets her offer practical steps you can take to start improving the situation even in the most entrenched of organisations. These steps help you to break down an overwhelming company-wide transformation into smaller, solvable puzzles.
Although The Service Organization draws heavily on Kate’s experience in the UK’s public sector, much of what she describes will resonate with product people working at large companies also, particularly those that have lost sight of the people their organisation exists to serve.
You can find The Service Organization by Kate Tarling on Amazon.
Speak to you soon,
I’ve included an affiliate link to Amazon this week, meaning I would receive a small commission were you to purchase the book.
what to think about this week
How often have you seen a pipeline of work, a brief or a backlog and thought ‘what does this even mean? What’s actually being built and why?’ How organisations describe work and measure projects is too often only inward-facing. It reflects the internal view of something that should be built or bought, rather than clarity about what that organisation is trying to solve or achieve for its users or for itself.
[Kate Tarling / Northern UX]
The suggestion that Bob’s beloved e-portal is just a small and insignificant speck in a much larger user journey (and an annoying speck at that) is frankly, laughable.
His ‘product’ is perfect, the ‘system’ works well. The ‘process’ is faultless. Why, oh why do you have to complicate things with this word, ‘SERVICE’?!
[Lou Downe / The School of Good Services]
It’s easy to confuse outcomes with something else, such as a goal, a change or an output or deliverable of a project. So we define outcomes as the end result of a policy, a service, or part of a service. It’s the actual thing that you want to make happen.
[Kate Tarling / Home Office Digital, Data and Technology]
Join us for our first ever PD Session where Kate Tarling (advisor, consultant and author) draws upon popular themes from her new book The Service Organization. Kate discusses what it looks like when an organisation puts great service delivery at the heart of how it operates.
[Kate Tarling / Public Digital]
Job adverts present a chicken-and-egg problem: they all need you to have product management experience to secure a job, but you don’t yet have a product management job to gain that experience.
Don’t let this discourage you!
[I Manage Products]
Recently I was explaining to a client why I focus my efforts on finding “force multipliers”. These are what I call activities that allow us to extract multiple benefits from a single piece of work. You could think of it a little like a workplace fusion reaction, where the output ends up far greater than the input effort.
[I Manage Products]
When the vision and strategy are focused and clear, they allow product managers to prioritise and filter the possible options for their products more easily.
[I Manage Products]
can we help you?
Product People is a product management services company. We can help you through consultancy, training and coaching. Just contact us if you need our help!
Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.
PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from a lion’s bite-mark in a car bumper.
Read more from Jock
The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management
by Jock Busuttil
“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”— Lyndsay Denton