Blog: What if Government Programs Had Competition?

What if Government Programs Had Competition?

Do you know anyone that’s ever had a bad experience with a government program, website, or service? Poor user experiences aren’t isolated to government interaction, but government presents a distinct challenge that contributes to this problem – the service isn’t competitive. What if we managed them as if they were?

When We Don’t Have a Choice

I remember how, back in the day, going to the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) was a miserable experience. Ok, maybe it still is, but it used to be REALLY miserable. What exacerbated the experience was that I had no choice. There wasn’t a competitor to go to, and the people that worked there seemed to understand that. I didn’t feel like they were really all that concerned about my user experience.

Thanks to online transactions, I can avoid an in-person visit today for most of the common things I need from government agencies, but even the online experience is lacking in many instances. Just because we don’t have a choice but to transact with those government products or services, does that mean no one should care about the user experience?

To be fair, some government websites and services are much better than they used to be. Many smart people with product hats on are doing great things to improve the user experience across these programs. Much more can be done though.

My challenge to all government program and product managers, and software teams, is to pretend you have competition. As The Product Mindset says, seek to “be chosen.”

Seek to be Chosen

Organizations that sell products and services make no money unless someone chooses them. Technological innovation doesn’t matter. Coolness factor is irrelevant. Having the best product is of no consequence. Until someone chooses to pay for it, it will fail. Period.

Government doesn’t sell things in competition with others, so it’s like a monopoly – everyone must use it regardless of how good or bad the service is. You might say, the metrics show that your government program/product/service is chosen 100% of the time. True, because they have no choice, but are the users happy with their experience? Would they choose you if there was another option?

Measuring Success

If you manage a government program and its user interfaces (e.g. websites, mobile applications, kiosks, call centers), how do you measure success today? Do any of those measures look at end user satisfaction? Is one of your primary objectives to delight your users? Or, are you making one of these 3 Common “Agile Metrics” Mistakes?

No one can replace or compete with your government program, but what if another company could provide the interfaces (e.g. online, phone, in-person) to interact with your program? Would your website, applications, and associated customer service practices be chosen over competing interfaces? Do you have data to validate that answer?

Why it Matters

Why does it matter if your products and services are something people would “choose?” They cannot go elsewhere to obtain the government benefits, so why put forth the extra time and expense to be “chosen?” 

For one, it may take more effort to care about the user experience, but I’m not sure it actually costs more in the long run. Good product management increases effectiveness and efficiency all the way around. Secondly, it’s worth putting good product mindsets on the problem because, as a product manager (and if you oversee software applications, you are a product manager), you should care about the user experience as well as the benefit that provides to the organization. 

Getting There From Here

You and your team may not be trained in product management. That’s understood. You may not be trained in software development either, but you hire contractors who are. So, hire contractors that understand the product mindset, and rethink your goals, objectives, and measures of success. Shed the project mentality and seek to build and maintain “chosen” products through continuous product management. For more on that, see my blog, What a TV Series Can Teach Us About Software Projects.

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