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Coach the product owner

Because product management practices are new to government, one of your most important roles is to coach the partner product owner (PO) so that they are equipped with the skills they need to carry on once the engagement ends. Start product management coaching from day zero. While it is not necessary or realistic to have perfect mastery of every skill set, work with your partners to develop specific strategies and trainings to fill gaps and mitigate risks, and plot these into your roadmap.

Considerations: What it looks like when this is done well

  • The PO is receptive of coaching from the 18F team and Product Manager.

  • The PO is able to articulate a compelling vision and strategy for their product that focuses on desired outcomes rather than requirements.

  • The PO is able to strategically define scope and prioritize work to deliver incremental value, and is not just responding to the highest pressure request of the moment.

  • The PO stays connected to the user and draws on user research, user-centered design, and user testing to define product success, and measures impact frequently.

  • The PO is proactively asking questions in order to understand the root cause of a problem or the implications of a solution.

  • The PO demonstrates an agile-oriented mindset that prioritizes action over philosophy and embraces uncertainty, testing hypotheses, learning from failure, and iteration.

  • The PO communicates cross-functionally with stakeholders, their team, and the vendor to keep everyone aligned about how the work they are doing is furthering product goals and to resolve blockers.

  • The PO understands how to further develop their product management skills.

Activities: How to get there

  • Conduct activities with your partner to identify gaps in skills, knowledge, processes, and tooling and track their growth.

  • Train your partner in the core product management practices most valuable to them (e.g. strategic product thinking, agile methodologies, cross-functional team management).

  • Provide increasingly more hands-on experiences making decisions about the product. Consider 3 phases of training through your engagement: model, pair, and coach (a.k.a. tell, show, do) to gradually put the partner and product owner in the lead role.

  • Encourage your partner to own product communications from the start of the engagement. Help them get into the habit of making public their vision and strategy documents, sending ship reports, publishing release notes, and telling their product story so that they are already doing this by the time the engagement ends.

  • Provide guidance on stakeholder management and ensure that the product owner learns how to facilitate change with intentional strategy, honors the stakeholders involved, and understands how people respond to change.

Incorporation: What to do next

  • Develop a plan to fully transition your partner to take over the product when 18F leaves.


18F Product Guide

An official website of the GSA’s Technology Transformation Services

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