How to Evaluate Product Ideas for the Public Sector.

I’ve written extensively about the difference between private sector and public sector products, and how it can be significantly more difficult to determine what the success criteria of public products should be. This is because all private companies, in the end, work the same way. Cash in, cash out. How much revenue is a product generation? This is not normally an opaque question — it is stunningly clear.

Not so with the public sector. We want to have an impact…but what exactly is that? Is it page views? Is it a specific social results or end goal? How do we measure a digital product’s contribution towards this?

This difficulty means that when reviewing possible ideas for products in the public sector, teams need to apply rigorous critical thinking. The default approach and answer should be “no”. Most ideas sound good, but are, in practice, not likely to work out for numerous reasons.

Often there are challenges with the adoption of the solution with the target market, with not enough emphasis and budget placed on this critical part of the overall project plan.

So, what are the “buckets” of thinking that teams should review to ensure that they select the right thing to work on?

  1. Identify the Problem: The first step is to identify the problem or challenge that the product aims to solve. This could be a social, economic or political problem that needs to be addressed. The problem needs to be large, and it needs to be something that urgently needs fixing. There are too many “nice-to-have” solutions in the world already.
  2. Define the goal: The next step is to define the goal of the product. This goal should align with the public sector’s mission and objectives and be easily measurable. “Raise awareness” does not count here. Neither does “solve problem x” count.
  3. Conduct Market Research: This is to determine if there is a demand for the product and if there are existing solutions to the problem. This research can help to identify the potential impact of the product and validate the idea. This means speaking to the people who will actually use the product in the end.
  4. Assess feasibility: Assess the feasibility of the product idea by evaluating the resources, technology and skills required to develop and implement the product.
  5. Identify risks and challenges: Identify any potential risks and challenges associated with the product and develop a plan to mitigate them.
  6. Cost-Benefit Analysis: Conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine if the product is worth pursuing. This analysis should consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of the product, both in terms of its impact and its cost.
  7. Consult stakeholders: Consult with stakeholders, including government agencies, communities, and subject matter experts, to gather feedback and ensure that the product is aligned with their needs and expectations.

By following these steps, public sector teams can evaluate product ideas more effectively and determine if a product is worth pursuing or not. The focus should be on developing products that have a clear and measurable impact and that are scalable and reusable.

Think products, not projects.

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