Lessons learnt: starting out as a product manager

I came to Co-op Digital as an agile business analyst and relatively speaking, I’m pretty new to product management.

I wanted to take on a product manager (PM) role after working with some inspiring people – Anna Goss, Lawrence Kitson and Charlotte King to name a few. I saw each of these people lead teams to meet user and business needs with design and technical solutions. And I wanted to do the same.

Since then, I’ve had to learn a lot of stuff. And quickly.

The other week at Product Camp Manchester, I gave a talk at on the advice I’d give my less experienced self. This post is about what I know now with the power of hindsight.

1.Context is everything

Yes, it’s the dream to get something in the hands of your users within a couple of months – weeks even – and that might be possible if you’re a product manager in a start-up.

But Co-op isn’t a start-up. It’s a huge, traditional organisation and for the vast majority of stakeholders, the pace digital teams move at can be scary. I understand that worry. Of course, it can take longer to get digital products and services out there when you’re working in an organisation going through digital transformation. And I’ve learnt that that’s ok: you need to take into account the time it takes to communicate what you’re doing clearly, and convincingly, to the right people. That way, you get the credibility to continue.

2.What you work on affects your learning

Many new PMs choose to work on ‘safe’ products or services. I didn’t. Instead, I prioritised working on the most interesting product. I pushed for my first product to be one of Co-op’s new ventures because I was really interested in lean product techniques and working on something new felt like a good way to test them out.

However, there have been times when having more experience would have been useful with a product like this. With experience comes confidence and with that comes the willingness to make decisions more quickly (granted, not always better ones). With the power of hindsight I’d be in a better position to be able to weigh up working on something that has more structure because it already exists and the challenge of shaping and influencing the direction of a product from inception.

Although I’m glad I stuck with the product, having the right people in place (an excellent community of practice and a supportive team) has been essential.

3.Influence team morale

Part of a PM’s role is to be in tune with the team’s morale, and sometimes to influence it. I’ve found that keeping these 3 things in mind is helpful.

‘Failing’ is just part of the process

Occasionally, things won’t go to plan. That’s unavoidable. We’ll make the wrong assumptions; we’ll test the wrong thing; a user will interact with a prototype in a completely different way to how we expected, and there’ll be times when we don’t do everything we set out to in a sprint.

As a PM you need to make sure the team knows that all of those things are ok and that making mistakes is fine as long as we’re learning. Letting them know gives each person autonomy, it shows you support them to get on with their job and that you trust their expertise.

The best bad decision is better than no decision

Sometimes, you won’t have enough information to make an informed decision. In those instances, accepting a sensible amount of risk, taking a punt and learning is more beneficial for the team because it keeps things moving. It’s always a good idea to explain a ‘best bad’ decision and the options to the team.

Hand-drawn doodle. A man standing in front of a sign post choosing to go in the direction of 'bad decision' rather than 'badder decision'

Any compromise warrants a thank you

You’re undoubtedly working with some very skilled and knowledgeable people and sometimes you’ll be in a position where you need them to compromise in the name of progress. Nobody likes compromise so if someone does it, showing your gratitude is essential.

4.Learn from doing, not just reading about doing

So much of the role is about how you interact with people, how cooperative they are and how much confidence they have in you – a lot of this can only be learnt through experience, through doing the job. You can read as many PM books as you like but the only way to learn properly is practically, by being on a team. Applying theory to deliver something valuable is the hard part.

5.Empower the team by being clear on your mission

Teams always say they want autonomy. But, if a team has complete autonomy but no mission they might end up building something super impressive and, unfortunately, completely useless to the problem they’re trying to solve.

They might end up building a rocket and not know why.

Hand-drawn doodle of 3 people looking at a very impressive rocket. One says: We built a rocket! Another says: Why?

Autonomy only works if the team is aligned. Creating a mission and communicating it to the whole team will give a clear purpose and empower each person to get on with delivery.

I’ve learnt a lot in a really short time. And as long as there are problems to solve, the learning won’t stop. We’ll be hiring product managers again very soon. Keep an eye on our jobs page and follow Co-op Digital on Twitter to stay in the loop.

Anthony Wilson
Product manager

Illustrations by Maisie Platts

 

 

Karen Lindop: our first ‘Federation presents’ event plus winning an award

(Transcript) Karen Lindop: Hello, and welcome to our update on what’s happening in the Digital team.

I’ll start with some brilliant news. On Tuesday our service team won the Special Innovations Award at the IT Service Management Foundation awards. A massive well done to Michaela and the entire team, past and present,including our partners BJSS.

At the Federation last week we hosted the first in the Federation Presents series. A massive well done to Emer and the Federation team, plus a thank you to Mary Mazzio. If you missed the event you can watch it again, we’ll add a link to the blog, plus you can always register for the next in the series which is next week on the 13th June. It’s on the very topical subject of responsibility with data.

We’re delighted that Aurelie Pols will join us to deliver the keynote, talking about how digitisation may be challenging our values as citizens and about our responsibility as data subjects, citizens and parents to assure technology works for the benefit of human beings. There are a few tickets left, so be quick and register. We also realise that not everyone can make evening events, which is why we’ll also be live streaming the event, and will make the recording available after as well.

Richard Sullivan and Cara Bermingham have been busy planning our next agile masterclass. It’s on 22nd June, and open to any of our colleagues across Co-op, so get in touch if you’d like to sign up.

Also this week, Katherine Vaughn and the user research team from Citizens Advice Bureau spent the day with our user research team sharing ways of working. It’s always so valuable to learn from others, so thank you to Katherine and the team for taking the time to come to see us.

Finally congratulations to Adam Warburton who completed his MBA this week – a fantastic achievement, well done Adam!

That’s it for this week. Don’t forget to subscribe for all our updates on our blog and follow us on Twitter. See you soon.

Karen Lindop
Head of Digital Operations

Why we’re using the Open Data Institute’s Data Ethics Canvas

The Data team has been working with the Open Data Institute (ODI) for a while now. The collaboration has helped us speak about and get feedback on our data plans. It’s also made us aware of the ODI’s openly available resources. One of those is their ‘Data Ethics Canvas’.

Recently, we’ve been using it in our digital delivery teams.

What it is and how it works

The ‘canvas’ is a template. It’s designed to help teams identify potential ethical issues associated with data they’re using, or coming into contact with, on a project. The ODI hopes it “promotes understanding and debate around the foundation, intention and potential impact of any piece of work.”

Vitally, of course, it’s also intended to help teams to figure out the steps they need to take to act ethically.

Screengrab of the ODI's data ethics canvas. Shows 15 boxes with 15 different considerations for digital teams

Working alongside delivery teams

In the last few weeks, the Data Governance team has been helping delivery teams fill in the canvas. Once we’ve filled it in together, we’ve been helping the teams work out what they may need to add in to their project to make sure we’re treating data how we should be. This could be something like getting approval to use the data (for a specific purpose) from whoever’s accountable, or to complete a ‘Data Privacy Impact Assessment’. It all depends on what the data is; what we need it for; how much risk is involved, and outcome a team want.

Why the canvas is working for us

The Data Ethics Canvas has been prompting our delivery teams to think even more carefully about the data the Co-op manages to enable it to operate, and the topics that must be considered to ensure we are acting ethically. This could be things like the source of the data; what we are using it for; how it will benefit our members, communities, causes and what the potential risks are in using it.

The canvas is something we can print it out and stick it up on the team walls alongside other current work and that’s really helpful. It makes sure everyone keep data ethics in mind all the time – from as early on as possible, so that this stuff will be woven into the product or service.

Where we’re going from here

Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking through the canvas with more of our teams. However, the canvas is just one part of how we’re going to get the whole Co-op thinking about data ethics over the course of 2018. We’re aiming to help everyone become data literate.

Danny McCarthy
Data governance manager

Karen Lindop: the AGM, user research training plus award nominations

(Transcript) Karen Lindop: Hello, and welcome to our update on what’s happening in the Digital team.

I’ll start with some brilliant news. We’ve had not one, but 3 award nominations this week. Shifts has been shortlisted for best user experience and Guardian for transformation at the Big Chip Awards. Plus our service team have been shortlisted for the ‘special innovations’ award at the IT Service Management Foundation awards. Well done everyone, it’s testament to all of your hard work. Fingers crossed for 3 wins!

Talking of Shifts, you may remember a few weeks ago we made Shifts available to all our Food store colleagues. In just 4 weeks we’ve onboarded over half of the user base with 90% of those users returning in the past week. Chris, Paul and the team aren’t done though – they’ll continue to listen to feedback from colleagues and work on making it even better.

Our user research community have been running a training session to help get more honest feedback from our colleagues. Last week they ran further sessions with people who will be doing user research throughout our Co-op. Great work from Simon Hurst who has designed the course and is taking a lead on this.

Saturday was our Co-op AGM. Well done to all the teams across Co-op who come together as one Co-op to deliver a brilliant day for our members. If you couldn’t make it on the day, or were watching the royal wedding or football – our live stream is available to view.

Finally a quick reminder that next week the first of The Federation presents series begins. On the 30th May we are hosting an evening were we talk about Modern Slavery in Tech with the incredible Mary Mazzio. There are a few tickets left, so be quick and register.

That’s it for this week. Don’t forget to subscribe for all our updates on our blog and follow us on Twitter. See you soon.

Karen Lindop
Head of Digital Operations

 

Help us make our mental health meet-ups better

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. During last year’s, Tom Walker wrote a post about why and how he set up Co-op Digital’s mental health meet-ups. A year on, Tom’s left but our fortnightly gatherings remain.

Now feels like a good time to kick off a conversation about what we can do to make sure they’re as helpful as they can be.

We’re looking for your suggestions.  

The idea’s still the same

Simon Hurst and I run the meet-ups now. It’s important to make it clear that, like Tom, we’re not doctors either. We’re not qualified to diagnose a mental illness and we’re certainly not qualified to prescribe remedies.

But the meet-ups are a place where colleagues can speak freely, in confidence, and know that they’re among empathetic people. A year on, this stuff is still the same.

Meet-ups are still open to everyone, they’re still informal. There’s still no minutes, no register, no pressure.

But the numbers have dropped

Recently, we’ve noticed that fewer people are coming to meet-ups. Of course, that could be seen as a really good thing – people don’t feel that they need the meet-up anymore because they’re feeling happier and healthier.

As much as we’d love to believe that, we don’t think that’s the case.

Time to make changes

The lunchtime meet-ups did a job. They got people within Co-op talking about mental health, often publicly, often openly. They helped reassure people they didn’t need to feel ashamed and that they weren’t alone.

It’s clear from speaking to people that even though there appears to be less demand for a mental health meet-up every other week, the idea of it existing, the idea of it being there if it’s needed, is comforting.

However, it’s time to adapt to meet people’s needs. We asked people who attend for their thoughts.

We learnt that:

  • some people find getting out of the office, in the fresh air, over lunchtime helps them most and, ironically, the meet-up was messing with that
  • everyone’s busy and taking time out in the middle of the day isn’t always easy

In response to that, here’s what we’re thinking of trying:

  1. Arranging walks – mental health meet-ups where we can walk and talk and take people out of the office.
  2. Drop-in slots – spreading out the times when we could meet up so there’s no set time and support’s there as and when it’s needed.
  3. Changing the day of the meet-ups.

Let us know what you think in the comments. Your feedback matters.

Mental health first aid training

We recently invited Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) into Co-op Digital and a handful of colleagues took part in a mental health ‘first aid’ training course. The idea is that we can look after team mental health and morale better if we have ‘first aiders’ who recognise early on when team members are struggling.  

In theory, agile teams are fairly healthy. Relatively speaking. Agile ceremonies like daily stand-ups and fortnightly retros act as check-ins with the team – they’re places to bring up struggles, blockers and concerns.

But the take-away point from the training was that we all need to learn how to listen. In Digital, our job is to solve problems. Because of this, it’s easy to throw ‘answers’ out to colleagues who are struggling. The training taught us how effective just listening, without proposing solutions, can be.

Help and be helped

Co-op Group offers advice on setting up a mental health support group. There’s also an Employee assistance programme.

And there’s us, in Digital. You can request to join our dedicated and private mental health Slack channel.

We’ll continue to be here, in whatever format works for our colleagues and friends. Your feedback will shape this. We hope to hear from you soon.

Becky Arrowsmith
Engineer

Karen Lindop: Agile Manchester plus work begins on personalised digital offers

(Transcript) Karen Lindop: Hello, and welcome to our update on what’s happened in the Digital team this week. It’s been a short week, but there’s no shortage of things going on in the team.

We’re proud to have been a sponsor of Agile Manchester this week. As always it’s been a brilliant couple of days, thank to the organisers who have done a great job. Also a massive thank you to Gillian MacDonald, Neil Vass, Ian Thomas, Danny McCarthy, Cara Bermingham who all presented, doing a fantastic job of representing the team and Co-op at the event.

This week our Membership ‘join in’ monthly email was released. This month we’re focussing on pizza, neighbourliness and digital coupons – so there’s something there for everyone. If you’re interested in finding out more you can from our Membership website.

You may remember reading a few months ago a blog post about about the discovery work that some of the team did in partnership with our food colleagues to investigate personalised offers for our members. Well the team have reformed, with the aim of building an end-to-end test of personalised offers via digital channels, ready to test with real members in Q3, 2018.

They are made up of colleagues from our Food business, Retail IT and Digital, each bringing their own expertise to different parts of the service. If you’re interested in finding our more they’re based on the 13th floor of Angel Square.

This week we’ve had some new people join us. Tom Clegg, Daniel Cork, Paul Clarkson, Tom Simcox and Marianne Knowles all join our design community. We also welcome Dale Hudson and Michael Doyle as front-end developers. Welcome to Co-op everyone, it’s great to have you here.

That’s it for this week. Don’t forget to subscribe for all our updates on our blog and follow us on Twitter. See you next week.

Karen Lindop
Head of Digital Operations

Karen Lindop: Camp Digital and the Co-operative Education Conference, plus Shifts has 17,500 users

(Transcript) Karen Lindop: Hello, and welcome to our update on what’s happened in the Digital team this week.

You may remember last week I talked about the go live of Shifts to all our Food store colleagues. At the start of last week we had 4,200 users. We’ve now got an incredible 17,500 users! Plus 93% of our stores have at least one user and 65% of users are accessing it accessing daily. Well done to Chris and the team, you’re doing a great job! Thank you.

Linda Humphries and Emer Coleman both did an amazing job this week representing Co-op. Linda talked about the positive effects of working in the open at Camp Digital and Emer was at the Co-operative Education Conference sharing the story of Federation, talking co-ops, digital and democracy.

Talking of events, we’ve just announced the first in The ‘Federation presents’ series. On the 30 May we are really proud to host an evening were we talk about Modern Slavery in Tech with the incredible Mary Mazzio.

Mary joins us in The Federation to talk about her documentary ‘I am Jane Doe’. It’s a look at how tech can be an enabler of modern slavery without appropriate regulation. Mary will talk about her decision to make the film and the role it has played in generating such focus on the issue and the political and social response.

She’ll then be joined by Co-op’s Director of Policy and Campaigns, Paul Gerrard, and Craig Melson, Programme manager, Tech UK on a panel hosted by our CMO Matt Atkinson. We’ll add the link to our blog, be sure to get your tickets early!

Our user researchers have been thinking about what underpins the way they work, and as a result they’ve created some principles. We published them this week on our blog and James and the team would love to hear what you think about them. We’ve already had some great feedback via Twitter which we really appreciate.

Finally, thank you to Richard Sullivan and Kim Morley who ran another Digital Masterclass last week. We had a great mix of Co-op colleagues from across our businesses and from lots of different disciplines. The feedback was brilliant, and we’ll be running another this month. If you’re a Co-op colleague watch this space for the date, also you can contact Richard or Kim if you want to know some more about it.

That’s it for this week. Don’t forget to subscribe for all our updates on our blog and follow us on Twitter. See you next week.

Karen Lindop
Head of Digital Operations