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A holistic view of product management


Product management, the Foundry4 way

The Foundry4 product management model, part of our Product Engineering service, looks at your entire organisation to improve delivery, organisational structure, and leadership.

At Foundry4 we are big proponents of an organisational product mindset, where product thinking is found at all levels. We incorporate this into our Product Engineering teams to ensure we deliver the right thing, at the right time for our clients.

While we are often asked to provide experienced product managers to fill gaps or coach existing product managers, we think that the best way to develop a product mindset in your organisation is to look at the interconnectedness of all things within it. This takes a much more holistic view than many people are expecting when they ask us for help with their product.

Why do we take this view?

In my experience, someone with the right aptitude, attitude and empathy will learn how to become an effective and influential product manager when given the right training. However even the best product manager will be ineffective if placed in an unsuitable environment. If they are stuck in a product bubble or constrained by an ‘agile ceiling’ things won't move forwards.

We therefore need to identify and address all factors that might hold them back, even if they fall outside the remit of what might traditionally be considered the product.

When working with clients, we are often asked to:

  • Demonstrate to client leadership how a product thinking perspective and approach can improve the performance of their delivery teams.
  • Provide clients with tools and techniques to bring some discipline to the prioritisation of their ambitions and show them the benefits of this activity.
  • Help clients identify measurements and performance indicators that go beyond vanity dashboards and instead provide them with the data to improve their teams and services.
  • Coach and upskill existing and incoming product people.

Over many years working with clients, we've developed a product management model that allows us to effectively and efficiently understand your organisation and achieve these aims.

The F4 Model

At Foundry4, our product management model is made up of five core modules which we tailor to the unique requirements of each client, depending on the organisation’s maturity, culture and location.

Module 1: Benchmarking

To kick things off, we review the status and capability of product thinking within your organisation. Depending on the size of the client, we run 25 - 30 interviews with as wide a range of roles as possible from the wider digital and technology team, and a few from beyond the team, to understand how things currently operate.

This review forms the basis of which of our modules we think would be valuable for the specific organisation.

As part of the review, we like to ask what it would take to get something like a simple “Hello, World!” from idea to production. The “Hello, World!” test is one of my personal favourites. We look at:

  • How many teams and people have to be involved? e.g. funding, provisioning, procurement, HR, IT security, architecture, change approval, design authorities...
  • Where does the accountability and responsibility sit for every decision; are they with the product manager or are they dispersed?
  • How many team switches and hand-offs are there?

This forms a visual map from which we can understand the barriers to building something significantly more complex.

We then look at what the gap is between the current ‘as is’ process and moving towards a future state of continuous deployment, or at least a very lightweight, product manager-approved deployment process.

Module 2: Technology review

In this module, we carry out an in-depth review of all aspects of technology across a client's product teams. If we find that the organisational structure is impacting the product teams' effectiveness we take action to:

  • Reduce the gap between the technical delivery teams and top-level programme direction.
  • Review value stream management and processes to ensure that business value for the client is effectively achieved.
  • Work with enterprise architecture to ensure that there is alignment between the programme and the organisation with respect to migration of services and data with the teams being set up in the most effective way.

When doing this work, we apply the principles found in the State of DevOps report and Accelerate. Accelerate is a piece of research examining which factors make for successful software delivery. It demonstrates a link between certain easily-collected metrics and the overall success, financial or otherwise, of the business to which the metrics belong.

We work with our clients to automate the capture of the Accelerate metrics (feature lead time, deployment frequency, mean time to restore, and change fail percentage). This allows us to persuade people outside of the software domain that making delivery teams empowered and autonomous brings genuine value to the business, despite the perceived risk.

Module 3: Governance and procurement

Although I personally find this the most interesting stage when working with a client, practices around governance, provisioning and procurement are often the unloved parts of an organisational product mindset.

Work in this area is not a simple fix, but rather an ongoing process that we can help give some momentum within the client organisation. Here are some areas that we commonly encounter issues:

  • Governance. When we talk about governance, we mean assurance, approval boards, business cases and all things nice. We refer to a model based on the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) Three Lines of Defence, which is designed to give clarity on risks and controls and help improve the effectiveness of risk management systems.

    In this model, management control is the first line of defence in risk management. The various risk control and compliance oversight functions established by management are the second line of defence, and independent assurance is the third. We take this approach and look at how and where we can bring in these principles for our clients.

  • Provisioning. If provisioning of your AWS/Azure/GCP environment takes three weeks and 20 pages of paperwork, then at some point your product team will get caught out and things will be delayed. This may seem obvious, yet it is not an uncommon situation to find. We like to focus on methods on managing and tracking costs for cloud workloads, and how to get ahead of procurement hurdles.

  • Procurement. This can cause a headache for our public sector clients in particular. Yet while there are rules that exist for very good reasons, they are often blindly followed, when in fact there is more scope for improvement here than many realise. We start our work here by looking at procurement issues from the perspective of a single delivery team.

We are big fans of back-to-front exemplars. Where most exemplars tend to focus on the user (and rightly so), we also like to look up and sideways to demonstrate that things can be done differently, while still meeting the objective of the rules around governance, provisioning and procurement.

Module 4: Leadership

A short, but important module. The time of any leader or leadership group is an often a rare and sought-after resource. For that reason this starts small. We have found that starting with a 4Ls retrospective works well, asking leaders what they liked, learned, lacked, and longed for during our work with them.

This is a good way to get leadership teams to think about positive and negative aspects of how they deliver services, from both a factual and emotional perspective, as often they have not had the time to step back and consider things before. We would normally follow this up with two further sessions, to run through the results of the 'Hello World' exercise and generate outcomes based objectives for them as individuals and as a group.

Module 5: Growing the community

A strong product practice community is incredibly important. It is central to developing your existing product managers, and supporting newly trained or recently joined members.

By constantly upskilling and coaching a client's product team throughout our work, we help them to create a strong practice community around product thinking.

A strong practice community that engages across your organisation can:

  • Support your ability to have autonomous and effective self-organising teams.
  • Provide a collective voice and bargaining power.
  • Help the wider organisation to understand the role and value of product thinking.

This is something that we weave throughout all our modules, making it a constant regardless of the topic we are working on.

Everyone is included

The goal of our model is to grow an organisational product mindset and ultimately improve organisational health. We work with our clients to support the needs of their communities, corporate, and governance functions. These functions are often viewed as organisational treacle, that slow down giving users value. You won't find them included in all approaches to product thinking, and they can be a challenge to address. But at Foundry4, we think they are your key to success.

As with all of our work we are constantly iterating and adapting our model, working in collaboration with our clients to learn and grow. Each time we go through the process we learn something new, ensuring our product engineering service stays relevant, is of the highest quality, and remains tailored to our clients' needs.

Author

Paul Murray
Paul Murray
Lead Product Manager
Foundry4

Paul Murray is an experienced public service digital leader with an interest in how procurement, governance and organisational structure affect product teams.

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