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Delivery managers, product managers and service managers – how to get the best out of them

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Agile

Recently I was facilitating a retrospective. One of the main concerns raised was how the delivery manager, product manager and service manager can avoid stepping on each other’s shoes. How often have you come across this situation?

I’ve seen this scenario at GDS, Home Office Digital and even in the private sector. I know that many of my colleagues have come across similar confusion around these roles and their responsibilities.

The GDS service manual gives an overview of these roles but sometimes teams, and even the people in the roles themselves, find it hard to understand the roles – hence confusion and chaos.

Through this blog I want to express my thoughts about the problem, and provide some simple tips on how to get the best of all three roles.

Focus on outcomes – not roles

The roles definitely differ. Therefore, rather than focusing on the roles, we should instead focus on interests and outcomes.

The best product teams, whether operating within an agile methodology or not, are more focused on what’s best for the product their building and the team than their own aspirations. And when they do this, they deliver a product experience that meets user needs.

One example where outcomes trumps roles is avoiding blame culture - for example, ‘he / she is responsible for that, so it’s not my fault.’ When we all focus on outcomes we’re all rallying around a service for meeting user needs. A simplistic view is explained by Henrik Kniberg in the picture below:

  1. do the right thing
  2. do things right
  3. get better and better every day


Getting the intersection right

Knowing the boundaries of these three roles is critical to delivering a successful product and leading a successful agile team.

Service managers and product managers – along with teams that include user researchers – are heavily involved in getting the user needs right for a service. The team is responsible for building the service to meet those needs in the right way, and the delivery manager works with the team to improve this, every single day.

You can read more here on the service manager mindset and how the delivery manager and product manager complement each other.

Tips to improve collaboration

Here are a few simple things to do before a project starts that will improve collaboration. Following these steps will enable delivery managers, product managers and service managers to work together in the best possible way – and to avoid the situation I described at the start of this blog. It’s best to:

  • agree the outcomes or impacts needed for service
  • talk about ways of working: this is very simple but effective, because it highlights the need for the team to work together – for example, ‘I don’t work on Fridays’ or ‘I don’t want meetings during lunch hours due to my gym commitments’
  • hold a ‘definition of done’ session: start it by asking simple questions about the lifecycle of a story from idea to delivery to understand what’s expected of each other
  • organise a session between the delivery manager, product manager and service manager to agree what’s expected of each of them to deliver outcomes, and share this output with the team

These steps improve collaboration and shared responsibility within the team, helping them find more sweet spots and be more successful.

In our Syrian project team we worked closely together towards a common goal. We successfully delivered two services, Help Refugees and the case working tool, that met the user needs and within rapid time scales.

I’d like end this blog with a picture by Gojko Adzic that has stuck in my mind for some time now about how to achieve great results.



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  1. Comment by Alex Johnston posted on

    Excellent blog - sometimes the most seemingly simple things are the hardest to get right!

  2. Comment by Rama posted on

    Very sensible way of looking at this conflict.

  3. Comment by PRAVEEN KARADIGUDDI posted on

    thanks Rama and Alex... Glad you see the simplicity that I wanted to portray ..but in real world people miss it hence the reason for blog


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