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Develop product leadership capacity

Most customized software development in government is performed by vendors, but our partners must not outsource product leadership. Software work needs to be aligned with other program and policy work being done. Decisions about which problem to solve first, or whether to emphasize budget, timeline, or quality, all impact the agency’s ability to realize its mission. These are decisions that need to be owned by your partner.

Developing strong product leadership and management capacity with your partners can take time. As early as possible, help the team understand the role of product owners in overseeing the design and implementation of a digital product. This includes balancing users, stakeholders, and business needs; defining and prioritizing work; and measuring and communicating outcomes. Help the partner establish this role in-house, and do what you can to ensure that the entire team is empowered to execute on the vision and strategy.

Considerations: What it looks like when this is done well

  • Partners and their executive leadership can articulate the role played by product owners and product managers in developing products, the difference between product management and project management, and the skills to seek out when filling these roles.

  • Partners and their executive leadership have made product owner a defined role, and the people filling these roles are allocated enough time to perform product responsibilities.

  • The product owner feels empowered by their leadership to make and execute strategic decisions that support the development process.

  • The product owner owns and advocates for the product vision and aligns stakeholders.

  • The product owner understands that they’re wearing the “hat of the user” and advocates on the user’s behalf.

Activities: How to get there

  • Describe what product management is, how it impacts software development, and why it is important in a government context.

  • Provide guidance on typical product owner responsibilities and skill sets, and help the partner define how those responsibilities can be allocated to one or more roles based on the organization’s situation.

  • Based on available skill sets and capacity, help the partner determine whether the product owner will also be responsible for the tactical aspects of product management (e.g., day-to-day management of the development team), whether these duties will be assigned to another person, or whether these duties will be performed by the vendor.

  • Help the partner identify strong candidates for the product owner role.

  • Help leadership and the product owner establish which decisions the product owner can make independently (e.g. feature prioritization and scope that support the agreed-upon goals and strategy) and which decisions the product owner will decide with leadership (e.g. recommended changes to goals, metrics, and launch strategy).

Incorporation: What to do next


  • What is product management: An overview of why product management is important, the difference between product management and project management, traits of high-performing teams, and the role of the product owner.

  • What is the role [1]: An introduction to product management and the product manager role.

  • What is the role [2]: A description of the role of product owners on 18F projects and their key strategic responsibilities that impact a project’s success.

  • What is the role [3]: A series of trainings on product management, how to tell if you need a product manager, and how to set up a product manager for success

  • What is the role [4]: A short description of the main product management responsibilities.

  • What are the responsibilities [1]: A case for dividing product management responsibilities into a strategic (i.e., supervisor) role and a tactical (i.e., manager) role.

  • What are the responsibilities [2]: An example differentiation of the key responsibilities of the tactical vs strategic product roles.

  • What is product management vs project management: An explanation of how these are different roles that should be filled by different people.

18F Product Guide

An official website of the GSA’s Technology Transformation Services

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