This was my first week as Lead Product Manager at British Standards Institute. As I’ve changed jobs, and obviously changed what and how I work, I thought I’d change the format for my week notes to be a bit more fluid and give myself scope to talk about whatever has come up over the week.
I’ve had a really good week. Brilliant, in fact. I met the team I’ll be managing and some of the stakeholders I’ll be working with, got a bit of an understanding about how BSI works and what the culture is like, and gave myself enough thinking time to develop my mental models for my new role and figure out what I want to achieve.
Things I want to achieve
I think the things I need to focus on are:
- People – Coaching the product managers to adopt the new practices so they can focus on delivering value to the business.
- Process – Developing robust product management processes that brings rigor to our practice without stifling our ability to innovate and adapt.
- Product – Product managing the BSI Shop to maximise the ROI on future development work and help the organisation develop a clear vision for ecommerce.
It’s a different team challenge than at BHF. There, the challenge was to form a team that could work well together, but at the BSI the challenge is helping the team take good practice out into the rest of the business. So, not only do we need to figure out that good practice for our context, we also have to get confident at bringing others along with us.
Even though it was only my first week I stepped into a coaching role quite easily. It always surprises me how much I enjoy working with people, especially as an INTJ and someone who doesn’t at all consider themselves a people person.
Currently, the product practice involves other parts of the business requesting features to be built or changed, and product managers acting as the conduit to the product they are responsible for, but lacking any customer insight about what they are being asked to build and feeling like they are unable to challenge that.
Each of the Product Managers needs to be involved in experimenting our way forward to focus on driving the business value from a joined-up product vision. This means that over time they can stop being a specialist for a particular product and become a generalist who can deliver outcomes for customers on any product.
How are we going to do this? By experimenting with our practice and with ways of giving the PM’s the skills and confidence to deliver the good practice we develop.
We have two team meetings each week, one on Tuesday and one on Thursday. At the moment both are check-ins on what the team is working on but I might turn the Thursday meeting into more of a retrospective to talk about how we work, what problems we’re facing and asking thoughtful questions to help us be more reflective on our practice.
One to ones
I have weekly one-to-ones with each of the Product Managers in my team which will be mostly about the day-to-day work they are doing to start with but over time we’ll move the discussion to things like developing a vision for their products, gaining customer insight, and delivering value to the business,
Meetups and book clubs
Two of the ideas proposed within the team to help Product Managers develop their knowledge are a book club, and going to meetups. It’s a difficult thing to encourage as it requires time outside of work to be spent on work-related things and not everyone is able or willing to do that, but as I’ve always been keen to be reading and learning I think it’s going to be an easy thing to model. I’ve found a ‘UX in publishing’ meetup so I’m going to go to that in a couple of weeks, and be disciplined about spending time reading. Luckily I’ve recently cataloged my books.
The current Product process seems to be focused on delivering features requested by other parts of the business and without a great deal of validation with customers. It follows IT’s processes rather than leading with a Product process, it focuses on outputs (business cases, capex requests, work request forms) rather than value for the business or the customer. Changing this approach is going to be interesting as it will affect lots of other teams but it isn’t something we can delay, it needs to have some progress over the next few months so that it’s embedded by the time we make the make shift from PM’s being responsible for particular products.
Using the Objectives and Key Results framework is pretty new at BSI but I definitely think I can help to make them more meaningful and achievable over time. Each Product has OKR’s and each team has OKR’s (along with the usually organisational PDR’s for individuals). So keeping them all aligned is going to be something to keep an eye on.
Aha! is our tool of choice for the product teams. It looks like it works well for what we want to achieve, we just need to stop using as a to do list (like Trello) or as a replication of the Work Requests that IT require (they use Azure DevOps which links to Aha so I need to find out more about how we can use the two systems together).
I spent a bit of time conceptualizing how we reflect the product management process that we want to evolve towards in Aha so that it serves as a tool to support the change, and give greater transparency of what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and what progress we’re making. We already track our OKR’s in Aha but we need to get it set up to handle how we want to work on Features and use User Stories more.
All the usual office systems are Microsoft, but you can’t have everything.
I’m going to experiment with a few different ways of managing tasks but my first experiment was setting up a database in Notion. This allows me to set metrics against task completion, track the number of days a task has been active and get a general picture of how many days I’m ahead or behind. That kind of thing might not be useful in the future but I’ll see what results I get.
I product manage the Shop website, the ecommerce platform that enables businesses to purchase single-license pdf’s of standards them them to use to improve their business. It’s run on a fifteen year old platform that is made up of lots of other old systems so developing on it is difficult and complicated.
There are a few piece of work at various stages so I spent some time trying to get to know the background of each to see how they came about, what value they are expected to deliver.
One of the features I’ve inherited is in the early stages and has just been analysed by one of the BA’s. Given the complexity of the work, the lack of customer insight driving it, and the questionable business benefits I’m going to recommend that we don’t proceed. I was about make that recommendation when I noticed that one of the key stakeholders was someone I hadn’t met yet. I thought that might not be the best way to get off on a good foot so I’ve delayed the decision until the middle of net week to give me time to introduce myself. I feel like this was a good catch and that building a better relationship over time is more important than making a decision quickly.
I’m keen to halt the ‘create more work requests to look like we’re making progress’ approach and do some work with the various stakeholders to begin setting a vision for the shop. Vision is something that is lacking across all products so I can use the shop as an experiment in how to develop that vision and then work with the other PM’s to develop vision’s across all the products that help keep them aligned with each other and their customer segments.
I’m keen to set and start measuring some success metrics for the product work on the Shop. I’ve been thinking about three metrics that roll-up into a Customer Satisfaction Score that is represented as a percentage of 100%, which shows how far we are from achieving our target score. The three metrics will be Revenue Per Visitor, Site Load Time (because the connection between site speed and conversion is well documented), and CSat (a 1 to 5 score provided by visitors to the site). Once I’ve been able to get a closer look at the analytics I’ll be able to set targets and then measure whether the work we do affects the metrics.
Challenges I can foresee
A culture of consensus
The entire premise of how Standards are produced is baked into the culture at the BSI. Get a group of experts together to discuss something until they all agree and a consensus is reached. So, one of my challenges will be how to innovate in a culture of consensus, how to move away from the upfront planning approach that requires everyone to agree before we move forward to being able to discover the path as we go, and knowing when to work towards achieving consensus, when to challenge it, and when to fly under the radar to get things done.
Scheduling my time
Balancing my (thinking and acting) time between People, Process and Product, each of which could easily be a full time job and each of which has different stakeholders with various priorities, is going to be a challenge. I think it’s going to require a bit of juggling to start with until I get into my ‘calm-little-centre’ position where I can pull things to me rather than them being pushed onto me.
I’d really like to start my MSc this year, which means finding ways to give myself time to study. So the schedule I’ve been working to this week is to get up at 5am, get to the office by 7am, study till 9am, get on with my work for the rest of the day, leave at 5pm, be home by 7pm, and then household and life stuff until I go to bed by midnight. When I start the course it’ll mean two evenings a week are given over to lectures but as long as I can stick to the discipline of ten hours of study time every week over the next few months I think I’ll be in a good place to start the course in October.