PRODUCTHEAD: Pragmatism is (im)perfectly fine

PRODUCTHEAD: Pragmatism is (im)perfectly fine

PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

product by product (caribou rmx) #

every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to


There are 3 reasons why a discovery should end:

  1. It is purely performative
  2. Ignored / unknown context
  3. Unconnected to value

Everything on your product roadmap should have lots of context that is easy to find


By serendipity, two lovely people I have worked with in the past in UK government have both published articles this week that talk about being pragmatic with product management in different ways.

Tom Dolan, who amongst other things has been head of product at Government Digital Service (GDS), shares some thoughts-in-progress about how product roadmapping could change. He doesn’t throw out all received wisdom, but rather shares his view on when you do need to make compromises from the Platonic ideal of a roadmap simply to make it work in your own organisation.

Scott Colfer, who worked as head of product at the Ministry of Justice and at Westminster council, has also shared some of his reflections on product discovery. He has the benefit of having observed dozens of product discoveries during his time in government and can therefore provide objective advice on what tends to make them work better and worse, and what you can do about it.

There are a couple of things that both articles have in common: product leaders need to share context generously, and be comfortable about when and how much to diverge from the prescribed ‘right’ way of doing something.

Both stress how important it is for the product leader to share the right amount of context with the team to give them the best possible chance of success. (Pro tip: it’s almost always better to over-share.) It could be context about the internal machinations of the organisation that helps a product discovery work better, or the context about the overarching product strategy that makes a roadmap able to focus more on what the organisation also sees as the highest priorities.

The other thing they have in common is that sometimes you just have to be pragmatic about what you’re doing. There’s no point in continuing to slog through a discovery if it’s not helping the team to decide whether to continue or stop with the opportunity. Similarly, sometimes there will need to be hard deadlines on your no-dates roadmap (now / next / later) — real ones, not ones made up to give your team artificial urgency — that would affect the order in which your team decides to sequence their work.

Enjoy the articles!

Speak to you soon,


what to think about this week

Do the right thing: invest in the right opportunities by doing discovery right

We had a central fund that covered the costs of making time to understand problems for our service users before deciding if and how to apply for a grant. We called this ‘Lean Discovery’ and it was powerful. We explored 5 grants over 6-months. Normally we’d apply for a modest amount from all 5 but this time we discounted ourselves from 3 of them.

We won more money in those two than we would’ve done if we’d won all 5 at our normal bid amount. Saying ‘no’ to the wrong opportunities helped win the right opportunities, and win big.

Be ruthless with opportunities

[Scott Colfer]

Tom’s roadmap heuristics – a work in progress

I’ve previously trailed a massive blogpost-that-might-be-a-book about roadmapping, but I suspect it’ll never get finished enough. However, earlier this week I was at a chat about the future of Product Craft within government, and mid-discussion spontaneously reeled off a list of my top reckons on the subject. Given that I had managed to do it on the fly without much thought, I decided to have another go – using largely the same scrappy approach.

Roadmapping is more important than an actual roadmap

[Tom Dolan / LeaningForward]

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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!

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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 surprisingly straightforward scarf joint.

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.

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