Welcome back! I have spent the last two weeks in the beautiful, magnificent, refreshing, and reenergizing nature of Iceland (also quite the digital country). This was my first two-week vacation in a long time, I feel refreshed, loaded with energy, and inspired - read this as a testimonial for more two-week vacations!

When creating the out-of-office calendar blocker a while back I included my first day back to ensure that I would have uninterrupted time to go through all the written stuff that accumulates in two weeks of absence. This “catch-up” blocker was super useful - I went through all my messages without feeling stressed or doing it after hours. Will employ this trick again!

Good communication continued

In our product management discipline bi-weekly we got some input on the DigitalService take on working in the open - it is great to see how our communication team tries to support the “show, don’t tell” approach in the company communications. What left me puzzled is that we consistently run into controversies with the administration about how transparent we (as DigitalService) want to be with our work. In the end, everything that is done in the german public sector can be reviewed by citizens aka. IFGed (Informationsfreiheitsgesetz), so why is there so much hesitation in publishing the work right away? Publishing can even create many positive outcomes, I wrote about this in my last weeknote.

Digital-ready legislation product work

Concerning my team’s work on digital-ready legislation, we were on an emotional roller-coaster this week. On the positive side we had a rather well-perceived first information event with different ministries, on the other side at the end of the week we were left with many governance questions concerning the future development of our MVP.

Let’s focus on what we accomplished:

  • Our work was for the first time, presented outside of focus groups, interviews, and tests. The feedback was neutral to slightly positive, I take this as an accomplishment as we have a rather complex change process at our hands.
  • In the Q&A part of the event, we had (without asking them to do so) help from our interdepartmental working group. They answered questions in an unbiased way that we could never do as the “product team”. Of cause, we hoped that we would create this environment through our approach of always working with them on a level playing field - but it is amazing to see it work. A motivating push for our team to further invest in this group and the established ways of working.
  • Our governmental counterpart asked us for some arguments why we chose a “paper-based” format for the MVP. As our work is based on user-centricity we could quickly explain the “boring” format as it was backed up by the discovery we ran:
    • Our users are used to working with PDFs/Text based documents or even print-outs when doing their job - to create a digital or web-based tool we need a better understanding of where/when/how to integrate it into their ways of working. That has not been the focus of our discovery work in the short timeframe.
    • Right now different digital tools are created to support the work of our users - as it is already a fragmented (digital) landscape we don’t want to add more complexity, but rather integrate at the right place.
    • Creating something (to the german administration) completely new, our focus with limited resources is on the content and how to make it as accessible and graspable as possible. A new interface would create an extra change/learning journey that could distract from the core content.

Overall we are working in an iterative way and right now we have a product that with its bare minimum of functions will help us learn in the real world. Oh, and we are excited about this learning journey ahead! Will the format probably change in the future? I am of cause not certain - but the users will answer this question for us.

Other than that I worked on the second iteration of the mentioned information event (we can always get better) and looked back into the evaluation part we want to kick off with the rollout.

Project vs. product management

Additionally, this week was also one of different internal and company strategy-related tasks and meetings. With the closing of the year, I spent quite a bit of time giving feedback to colleagues (as part of our 365° cycle), something I enjoy (and also looking forward to receiving a bunch of feedback).

Sparked by a Slack conversation I started to think about the different “schools of practice” when it comes to “project” governance in public administration. Prince2 and SAFe are still the public sector’s gold standard when it comes to the methodology of steering projects (take this with a grain of salt - the methods or artifacts of these crossed my virtual desk quite often during the past two years of working in the public sector so gold standard might be a bit strong wording). In the past, it often surprised me that much time (often the time of expensive external consultants) is used to write project manuals that are never actually implemented. But as this is just my personal experience I want to start to think about it in a more structured way that’s what made me start this first draft of a list to contrast the different artifacts that we see when comparing traditional projects vs. iterative product views:

  • Project manual (drafted beforehand and approved through the hierarchy) <-> Wiki/Confluence pages (iteratively, insight-driven owned by the whole team)
  • Project (waterfall) plan drafted beforehand <-> Vision/Needs/(User)Stories operationalized by (an adoption) of scrum (regular planings/reviews/kanban)
  • RACI tables (often displaying the hierarchy of the system) <-> Roles/”hats” (often representing the
  • Risk lists <-> Assumption/Hypothesis lists

This might be a starting point for a more in-depth look at this - something Katja and Martin also started with their talk at the Public Service Lab this year. Any thoughts, drop me some lines via E-Mail/Twitter/LinkedIn 👇 and with that, see you next week.