At Parkinson's UK, Faye Benfield — Head of Improvement, Product and Delivery — and her team are leading and embedding this way of thinking across the organisation.
Here she discusses the main benefits and challenges of this approach.
Introducing the product to Parkinson's UK
When Faye joined the charity three and a half years ago, product thinking was relatively new at the organisation. Her role was therefore to help establish the practice, and to help people understand why this way of working is beneficial.
“We had a few product people at first, over time we’ve added a wider range of specialists to the organisation,” Faye says. “So last year I restructured the team around four specialisms: Business Analysis, Product Management, Delivery Management and Experience Strategy.”
“I view these four areas as a Venn diagram. There are intersections between them and also distinctions. Across the lifecycle of any product, these specialists will play a role at different points in time. Together they share business needs, user needs, the good use of technology, and robust delivery, all aligning to strategy. They're complementary.”
Why specialists should lead the team
Rather than having one person try to take on everything, this team restructure also put specialists in place to lead their respective teams.
“I've got four leads — one for each area — and they work together well,” Faye says. “They lead the teams and the functions, evolve the practice, and together deliver on our strategic aims.”
The current structure has seen real success, both in what the functions have been able to achieve and in the way they are seen across the business.
“The structure we have now is excellent — the leads are all thriving, and the people within their teams are doing really well. Our colleagues in the rest of the organisation understand us better, this structure makes it easier for us to connect with each other,” Faye notes.
Another benefit is better personal development and progression within product roles at the organisation. As the product practice evolves, Parkinson's UK is able to offer more clarity on what is expected from people at different levels, giving individuals the space and structure they need to grow.
Power to the product people
Bringing a product mindset to Parkinson's UK also involved changing who was responsible for the different products in the organisation, such as the website and volunteering portal, as well as internal systems including email and case management.
“Historically we found we were undervaluing product thinking and the product skill set within the organisation,” she says. “We didn't have the specialists to manage each product day to day, so this ended up being done by stakeholders from within the relevant business area.”
“That meant those people were struggling — they were trying to do this on top of their regular job, so despite working really hard they didn't have the time or the product management experience to do it effectively.”
Now, Parkinson's UK has united product people with stakeholders in the business, with two key roles for each product. One is a product person, such as a product manager, and the other is a product partner. This is someone from the business who is a key stakeholder for that product, and who can work in partnership with the product person to develop, evolve, and deliver the product together.
Reorganising products for greater clarity
One of the things Faye and her team are now working on is reorganising all Parkinson's UK products, and grouping them according to strategic themes. This is a response to the way products have been created in different parts of the organisation over time and is helping to improve focus.
“Our products popped up organically in different areas around the organisation,” she says. “When this happens products and the ownership of products can become scattered, with things being built in all sorts of different technologies here, there and everywhere.”
“By instead grouping products under strategic themes we can have greater clarity of ownership, better alignment, better decision making, and we can use our technology in better ways.”
Grouping products according to the themes of transaction, service, and engagement has enabled the organisation to streamline its operations, learn more about the Return on Investment of products, and better evaluate user needs and behaviours to make products as successful as possible.
Taking the digital out of digital transformation
Like many in the not for profit sector, the transformation of Parkinson's UK's product discipline was part of a wider programme of digital transformation. Although the organisation is now distancing itself from the word “digital”.
“Up until the beginning of 2020 we went through a process of digital and data transformation,” Faye says. “When we refocused for our next strategic period, we removed the word digital because we found it's more helpful to focus on needs and experiences."
“Now a few years on, we notice that colleagues, volunteers, and people we work with take digital in their stride, and understand it's part and parcel of how we exist in the world."
As a whole, a more mature product mindset at Parkinson's UK has made it possible to deliver products and services that meet people's needs, and reflect business goals. This is no small achievement, because — as Faye says — it is the organisation's ultimate aim.
“As a healthcare charity we are creating services to meet peoples' needs, and working towards finding a cure for Parkinson's. We must build useful services and accelerate progress towards a cure, otherwise — why do we exist?”
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