Public Product Roadmap
The Government Digital Service, a department within the UK Cabinet Office, set out in 2009 to streamline the government’s hundreds of disconnected public websites. They wanted to develop a single online platform for accessing UK government services and information. That initiative, GOV.UK, has become a true success story — a site that receives 12 million weekly visitors and gives people simpler, clearer and faster access to UK public services.
"ProductPlan allowed us to tell a clear story of what we’re doing next to run and improve GOV.UK, making it clear how deliverables relate to the big outcomes we want to achieve, with the right level of details for different audiences."
Neil Williams, Head of GOV.UK
It keeps us on our toes to have public oversight of what we’re doing. Saying publicly what we think we’re going to do means we’re held to account, and if we get delayed for any reason, we have to be ready to explain why. That’s good discipline; it keeps us honest.
A Complex Initiative Requires a Simplified Roadmap Tool
When Neil and his team first began the GOV.UK inititiative, they worked in what he calls “skirmish” mode, with just a few small teams building rapidly and without a long-term strategy. But as the site matured, and the teams grew larger and more numerous, Neil realized GOV.UK needed a roadmap to align their work and help stakeholders see what was coming.
“GOV.UK became much bigger and more complex; our team eventually grew by 10x, from that initial 14 to a team of 140 that I manage today; and our stakeholders became more numerous with more than 330 government organizations publishing to the web via our platform,” says Neil, who now runs the entire GOV.UK initiative.
“As we grew more mature, and as groups began to work on different initiatives for the platform in parallel, we definitely needed a roadmap to document, track and share all of our plans and objectives and make sure we were all pulling in the same direction,” Neil explains.
And Neil and his team had yet another reason for a GOV.UK roadmap — ideally one that could be published for anyone to see: “A central part of the culture at GDS is transparency. You can see it on the posters in our offices and the stickers on our laptops: ‘Make things open, it makes things better.’ So the second reason we moved to a roadmap is that it just made sense to create an ongoing, open source of information where our colleagues and (later) the general public could come and see what we were working on at GOV.UK.”
Neil used various tools to build and maintain the GOV.UK product roadmap. He began by creating the roadmap as a PDF using a static design tool, and then updating it once a month for his team meetings. He then moved to an online collaboration tool.
“The tool we were using was great for Kanban boards but wasn’t designed specifically for product roadmap creation,” says Neil. “It didn’t have the ability to allow me to show, for example, the same roadmap at the different levels of detail depending on the audience — such as the feature-level stuff, the group-level objectives, and the more strategic-level vision.”
ProductPlan Provides GOV.UK Simplicity, Flexibility and Transparency
When they discovered ProductPlan, Neil realized he could now do many of the things he wanted to with the GOV.UK project — create, track and share specific initiatives; focus on features but also on larger themes and strategies; and present different components of the site, at differing levels of granularity, depending on the audience.
The ability to share the roadmap publicly was also an important feature for Neil: “Plus of course it has an option to share the roadmap via a hosted URL, which was top of the selection criteria for me. It’s working out well for us so far – and I’d encourage product teams everywhere to try going public with their roadmaps, what’s the worst that can happen?”
A public roadmap keeps us focused. Everyone is watching — or at least can watch — and so any delay or change of plan is visible.
A public roadmap has helped Neil communicate better, but it’s had some benefits beyond that as well. More transparency has meant more feedback — and more interest in the platform.
“A second and related benefit I see in making our roadmap public is that we receive user feedback on it. The simple act of posting the roadmap online generates constructive conversations and valuable ideas from our government colleagues, and sometimes the public.
“It also has the effect of heightening interest in GOV.UK and what’s coming next for the platform — including for prospective employees, who we obviously want to be excited about the work coming up here so they choose to come and join our team.”
Yet, Neil maintains that the most important benefit of switching to a web-based roadmap has been the ability to seamlessly keep diverse stakeholders informed of the current plan: “Most simply, publishing the roadmap is far and away the most efficient way for us to keep all of our government colleagues around the country up-to-date on the progress of our platform. We have more than 3,000 admin users across the 330 organizations that make up the central UK government, and they are very widely distributed, which makes it difficult and costly to reach all of our stakeholders with every update.
“Maintaining a public roadmap online, then, is just a more efficient way of communicating the ongoing plans and objectives of GOV.UK with everyone in the government.”