PRODUCTHEAD: Becoming a service organisation

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 to re-shape projects (without antagonising people)

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.

[VIDEO] How to evaluate and re-shape projects for success

[Kate Tarling / Northern UX]

Invisible services and how to fix them

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’?!

Don’t turn users into ‘meatlinks’

[Lou Downe / The School of Good Services]

What we mean by service outcomes and measurement

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.

Bridging the gap between transformation and traditional governance

[Kate Tarling / Home Office Digital, Data and Technology]

PD Sessions: The Service Organisation

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.

[VIDEO] How to cause change in large organisations

[Kate Tarling / Public Digital]

recent posts

Getting your first job as a product manager

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!

Practical tips for breaking into a career in product management

[I Manage Products]

Force multipliers

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.

Getting more out than you put in

[I Manage Products]

How to sharpen up your vision and strategy

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.

Use these straightforward questions and worked examples

[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!

Product People Limited logo

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 book cover

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

Jock Busuttil is a product management and leadership coach, product leader and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *