What do you [really] do?

whaddayado

That is the question isn’t it?

My job title is Head of Digital Transformation. Yep I don’t know what that means either. Probably not what you think it does.

The reality is my job title should have probably been Head of Beta.ONS for this year – because it has been pretty much all consuming. Where that would leave me next year is another matter though!

When asked I tend to describe myself as a Product Manager (or sometimes Product Lead – never ‘owner’) and I tend to use this Venn diagram to describe the role –>

what_is_a_product_manager

Maybe it is aspirational though? What I actually do day to day at the moment mainly falls in to these four categories;

Communicating

I spend an awful lot of time doing what could be broadly called ‘communications’ or ‘engagement’. I say horribly management speak things like ‘articulate’, ‘narrative’, ‘story telling’ and ‘show the thing’ a lot. Yet I blanch at things like ‘messaging’ or ‘lines to take’.

Clearly I do my share of writing here and elsewhere as well as sweating the details on presentations – following Russell’s advice. I work really hard to make presentations look spontaneous and unrehearsed when things couldn’t be further than the truth.

I attend meetings and meet-ups, conferences and unconferences, hackdays and symposiums. I network (horribly) and where possible I make sure we support community events.

I talk so much even I get tired of the sound of the Bristolian accent🙂

Hiring

I’ve never spent so much time working on recruitment as I have this year. As far as I can tell we have pretty much had open roles in the team non-stop since February. I have learned a huge amount. I think I have become a much better interviewer – I certainly make it much more of a priority and really work hard to write job descriptions that make sense and are appealing to the target audiences. Even going as far as to basically A/B test them with my Twitter followers and have them peer reviewed.

I also spend an awful lot of time communicating (again) about why someone might want to join us at ONS – why work with us and not somewhere else. I am not sure I have cracked this yet buy god loves a trier.

Planning

This is my favourite part of what I do but the part I seem to get to spend least time on. I need to look forward – beyond sprint planning and even past the launch of the new site and work out what we need to do to get to the next stage in the evolution of the site.

I’ve published the roadmap but it is still a little limited in ambition in my opinion – given I wrote it I can say that. While I am never comfortable with the idea of ‘visions’ we do have one and there is a long way to go before we will really deliver on that and in my rare quiet moments I try to focus on what I can do to ensure that we don’t lose any momentum post launch and continuous improvement becomes a reality and not just another management speak forfeit from me.

I would love to get enough breathing space to really think this through – I love what Tom, Richard et al did with their concept for reimagining digital government and on a (much) smaller scale I’d love to do something similar for statistics (and data?).

Deciding

I make a LOT of decisions everyday. Big and small. In meetings, stand-ups, at desks and walking along the corridors. It terrifies me. Trying to maintain a mental audit trail of everything means I am usually just one tough question away from a crippling headache. Slack helps a lot as so much of our team communication flows through it – even though we are primarily all sat together.

Somehow I find myself having (reasonably) coherent conversations about everything from encryption to cacheing to UX to content migration to deployment pipelines (including bloody Docker!) to performance issues (that was last week). Thankfully I am surrounded by people smarter than myself and we make decisions almost exclusively based on a combination of user needs, data and expertise. When that doesn’t provide a clear answer though then I’m with Jim Barksdale, former Netscape CEO;

“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”

So maybe I am a Product Manager because as Josh Elman says – “it’s different in every company.” Whatever I am I am certainly not in danger of getting bored!