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Why Government Technology UX is Poor and the Role of Product Managers
Product Manager positions are going to get more popular in government. PMGSY has two institutional posts since 2019, my current team has one exceptional product manager and I know few in the pipeline. There are others who do somewhat similar work but with different official designations.
Recently, along with the product manager in the team we presented User Experience (UX) improvements on existing modules of a particular scheme MIS based on the feedback collected by the PM on her field visits and talking to end users. We’ve had many such meetings over the past couple of years with various teams and they generally go in similar manner.
“But can’t the User just go back and find the information from a different report?”
“The User also has to do some work”.
“They’ll always find something to complain about, can’t pamper.”
I don’t think a lot of these concerns or remarks are genuinely meant, at least not always. These are instead acts of self-preservation by technical teams and symptoms of systemic issue. No amount of product conversations or hires can make government technology more user friendly for citizens or government counter-parts unless we fix the basics. MIS teams are always playing catch up, submerged in new often half-baked requirements followed by never ending iterations, everything is high priority and therefore nothing is, have little interaction with end-users, have their salaries delayed and fighting attrition with high private sector post-COVID salaries + remote work perks. Within this, recommending that an existing and functioning module needs to be modified with added tool-tips, intuitive forms labelling is being out of touch with reality.
“Let’s finish the need-to-haves first”
Discarding the difference in opinion on what’s optional and what’s needed, “need-to-haves” seem to never end. We seem to be always loudly building and if any time is spared, silently maintaining.
PMs can’t fix hiring or salaries, so what can PMs in the government do instead?
Naturally, deployed modules generate actual user feedback and there maybe an urge to fix these first, but given the circumstances it might be better to focus on greenfield or new modules and ensuring they are user-friendly right from the scratch. Iterations are costly. It also means moving from verbal requirements to having PRDs and mockups being sent to technical teams from the administrative/policy teams. It’s a win-win, PMs can control the UX with PRDs, whereas the technical teams can hold the division accountable for iterations beyond the documented requirements. PMs can also create a single-window for prioritizing tasks pouring in from across divisions, make visible the silent but important maintenance time sinks etc.
But there is only so much that can be done with always under-capacity and poorly paid technical teams. Fixing the hiring pipeline and retention of technical resources is the primary need-to-have, maybe then good UX can be too.
PS. If you are interested in doing Product Management in the Government, feel free to shoot me an email.
PPS. If your government department is hiring a product manager, I am happy to share the TORs we have been using.