Meet the Local Digital team: Gemma Matthews, Senior Product Manager
In this blog series, we’re shining a spotlight on different members of the Local Digital team to showcase just some of the incredible expertise and hard work that goes on behind the scenes.
In our latest issue, Senior Product Manager, Gemma Matthews explains how her experience is helping Local Digital to shape the future of our funding opportunities for local government.
The role of a Product Manager is often to ask ‘why’ and make sure our work is delivering real-life value for the people we serve. I help the Local Digital team understand the broader context of the work we do, and advocate for our users.
My journey to becoming a product manager
I first joined the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) in 2018. I started in a policy role in the Planning directorate before moving to the Special Advisers’ office, which is where I gained valuable stakeholder management skills and political awareness.
After this, I did a stint as Private Secretary and Head of Office for a Director General and eventually moved to work on a change programme within the department. In this role, I learned a lot about organisational design and change management, as well as taking my first step towards working in digital.
From there I moved to help lead the Funding Service Design team. This team’s mission is to simplify funding processes and reduce complexity for both applicants and assessors. It was a brilliant experience, and I’m still on that mission to make funding as simple and impactful as it can be!
It was in this role that I learned to be more assertive. On my first day, my boss told me to go in with ideas and to be confident when making decisions with the team. There was total freedom to take initiative, and I loved it.
How I’m applying what I’ve learned to my current role
I joined the Local Digital team in July 2022. I’m working on an exciting new initiative to create the conditions for councils to become more modern, resilient organisations. We’re asking ourselves:
- How do we help councils adopt new technology?
- How can we ensure councils are resilient to cyber attacks?
- How can we support councils to unlock data and understand what’s happening real time?
The Local Digital team and the Local Digital Declaration have helped councils to achieve a lot in just four years, but now we have the opportunity to take on key challenges faced by the sector and ensure councils have the tools, funding and capability to deliver better services.
I’m motivated by the knowledge that the work we do will help to improve people’s everyday lives.
What a typical week looks like
I love to work closely with our user researcher, joining interviews and research sessions with councils to ensure I can feed user insights into our strategy.
We have a lot of talented and experienced people within the team, so I spend time understanding the opportunities they see and how we can go after them. We’re a multidisciplinary team and I enjoy that everyone brings something different to the table.
It’s also my role to convey the choices and trade-offs that we face in our work to stakeholders within the department. I enjoy the stakeholder engagement and management aspect of my role — talking to people across the department and debating the best course of action to achieve our vision.
What I’m most proud of in my career
In my previous role within the DLUHC Funding Service Design team, I led the way through a successful Alpha stage. Government funding is hugely complex but we managed to get people to focus on user needs — a new way of thinking for many. This allowed us to prove that consistency and greater simplicity are possible across funds.
The team is now developing a product that will meet applicant and assessor needs to Government Digital Service (GDS) standards. That product is now being tested with a fund and I’m excited to see how the Local Digital team may be able to use it in future.
The work does not stop at the product level. I hope to adopt many of this team’s recommendations to make our funding processes clearer, more consistent and proportionate.
When I can, I also love to run a Book Club for people across the department (and beyond). It started out as a way of introducing people to agile ways of working, but it has really evolved. We are now a tight-knit community and discuss wide-ranging things affecting our work and lives. I am proud to have created this oasis for people in the midst of the busy workday, and love seeing people from very different teams championing each other.
What I’ve learned and my advice for others
If you enjoy talking to and understanding people then I would give product management a try. There’s no secret formula or absolute requirement to have a technical background, so don’t let that put you off. Right now, I am trying to approach policy making and delivery as a product manager, which brings with it a whole set of new challenges! There are loads of different opportunities out there.
I have had to learn to be bold in this role in a way that I couldn’t have done in my previous roles in the department. It’s not always easy but it’s worth it.
Follow our work
The Local Digital team works in the open, and you can read more about the work we do and follow our progress on Twitter, LinkedIn, Sprint Notes or our fortnightly newsletter. You can also follow me on Twitter at @gemmatthews2.