About this guide
18F product managers lead cross-functional teams of researchers, designers, and engineers to help government agencies develop a product vision, craft a product strategy, and successfully deliver software using user-centered and agile approaches.
The 18F Product Guide is primarily written for consulting product managers at 18F, offering resources for product management best practices across multiple phases and types of consulting work. This guide also communicates what a team might expect from a product manager. As such, we hope it will be a useful reference for anyone new to product management in government or new to working with a product manager.
How to use this guide
As a product manager at 18F, you may find yourself in a partner-facing consulting role to help a government agency build or buy a mission-critical product. As we work across the entire federal government and can now support state and local governments, you may encounter subject matter that is entirely new to you. Or, you may be working on one of TTS’ flagship products, like Federalist, cloud.gov or login.gov.
In all cases, you will develop and steward a product vision and strategy, and drive a cross-functional team to deliver the right product to the right audience. This involves different activities and priorities at different phases of the work. Whether you’re in discovery or implementation mode, you are creating the space and opportunity for your team to deliver on intended outcomes, rooted in empathy and evidence, that benefit members of the public and the government employees who serve them.
We created this guide for your reference. It’s here for a refresher on writing compelling vision statements, or for quick access to roadmap templates, skill building workshops, presentations, etc. You’re also welcome to read it from start to finish, of course.
This guide is divided into 4 sections:
Discover the current state describes key elements of our discovery work, where we seek to understand users and their needs, stakeholders and their priorities, their technical landscape and requirements, and their regulatory landscape and obligations so that we can help our partners make informed decisions about the path forward.
Define the future state describes our processes for translating discovery to implementation by defining the problem we’re solving, creating an aspirational vision for the future, developing a strategy to achieve those outcomes, and crafting a roadmap to get there. This strategic work, focused on goals rather than a specific destination, is essential for ensuring the success of government technology projects in environments where people, priorities, and policies regularly shift.
Deliver the “right” way describes how we build products iteratively following agile principles, collaborate and communicate transparently, and measure success as we go so that we can reduce risk and uncertainty, adjust or pivot as we learn, and develop solutions with impact.
Enable partners describes our unique approach to ensuring our agency partners build or buy sustainably and to creating a culture of long-term, government-led product ownership so that they can maintain their digital products after we leave. This is accomplished through helping our partners develop product leadership capacity, coaching on product ownership, preparing them to manage an agile vendor, and planning from the beginning for that transition so that partner agencies can successfully practice product ownership in government on their own.
This guide and our approach to product management are informed by several frameworks that years of experience have shown to be effective in driving low-risk, successful technology projects in government:
Agile delivery: iteratively develop functional software, deploying and testing continuously.
User-centered design: design with, not for the users of a system or government service.
Build and communicate in the open: build trust through transparency.
Low-risk technology acquisition: ensure that purchasing software services or off the shelf products is low risk and contracts are structured modularly.
If you have any suggestions for improving this guide or want to get involved, read our contributing page; find us on Slack in #product; or create an issue in GitHub.
Reusing this guide in other organizations
As a work of the federal government, this project is in the public domain within the United States. Additionally, we waive copyright and related rights in the work worldwide through the CC0 1.0 Universal public domain dedication.
This guide is written for internal use and is shared in the spirit of open source. We encourage you to make a copy of this guide and adapt it to your organizational needs. This guide is just that: a guide. It’s not meant to provide the final opinion on any of the topics discussed. If a certain section isn’t relevant to you and your team, delete it. And if you feel the guide is missing a section, by all means, add it. This guide is yours to use, and we trust you’ll update it in the ways that best suit you.