Eliza is an Associate Product Manager at DWP Digital, with a background in User Research and a passion for process improvement, accessibility, human-centred design and product. Eliza’s career is focused on what she calls ‘good work’ to build products, services and teams that are effective, inclusive, and useful.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background, and your current role

I’ve recently started as an Associate Product Manager in DWP Digital. I applied to the programme, as the parts of my previous roles that I enjoy most seem to fit with the Product Practice. This includes getting the right people in the room, having challenging conversations, asking questions, and advocating for customers. Ultimately, it’s understanding what the work is and why we are doing it. Then they enable the team, in a multitude of different ways, to do the best they can.

The programme is 12 months long. I’m going to be working as part of the Appeals team and will spend the time learning, upskilling, and collaborating with the team. I get to do the job, while being mentored and supported. It’s been an amazing start to what I hope will lead to a permanent position.

I began my career in government at HMRC and moved to DWP Digital just over a year ago. I’ve spent 18 months, before my current role working in Research Operations (ResOps). ResOps is a relatively new and emerging practice in the User Research space, the work is challenging and really rewarding. I’ve been very fortunate to have grown and developed within a practice that has the user at the very heart of everything it does.

My background is in communication, creative problem-solving, leadership and facilitation.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

I’m yet to get properly into the role of an Associate Product Manager, but in ResOps there’s no such thing as a typical day. I introduced some of the agile methodologies into our team to make sure everyone had a space for updates, blockers, and support. Each day would start with a Stand-Up meeting, 30 minutes where we would talk about the work we were doing, our progress and call out for support.

The day could be anything from helping User Researchers design effective recruitment screeners, developing processes for tooling, onboarding new user researchers, writing documentation and guidance, running process development workshops and meeting with the practice Head of Role and leads to plan work. More challenging days would consist of calls with policy, security, and crown commercials.

The work is so varied as the needs of the User Researchers are vast, it’s vital that they’re confident that the tools and processes we provide them with are robust, safe, and effective.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

In my late teens I had my sights set on drama school but having my son changed that. It’s only been the last 4 or 5 years that I have really considered a ‘career’, I’ve definitely worked the last 2 years in ResOps with a focus on becoming a Product Manager/Owner.

What do you love about working for DWP Digital?

Learning, every day really is a learning day. I get to work and collaborate with some of the best brains and the best subject matter experts in their respective specialisms. It really is a phenomenal privilege to work alongside our digital teams. We do what I like to think of as the ‘good work’. Ultimately, everything we are doing is for the benefit of millions of citizens – at some point in our lives we, or someone we love, will have to use DWP’s services. Making them simple, usable, inclusive, and accessible is at the heart of our work. My go-to line is ‘Start with everyone.’

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you overcome these challenges?

I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Open plan offices, back-to-back calls, email management and saying yes to too many things can make my day challenging. I have suffered from anxiety or imposter syndrome at varying stages of my career too. Half of the battle with overcoming challenges like these is to be grounded in the quality of your output, rather than how you get there.

Reasonable adjustments have changed my life! Working at DWP Digital, an employer that focuses on your individual needs and helping you get the best out of yourself, but not at the expense of yourself, is still very new to me.

I’ve been able to change my work pattern to allow for focused work like emails and anything that requires attention to detail. I can be strict with my diary and block out time for a break between calls to prevent fatigue. Meeting hygiene has been a big help, setting expectations and an agenda so that meetings are effective and don’t get off topic.

I have also learned to say ‘no’ a little more. Being precious with my time and occasionally pushing back on things. Above all, being honest about my needs and not being afraid to ask. Having a supportive community of colleagues around me definitely makes it easier.

Have you benefited from coaching, mentoring or the sponsorship of others?

Absolutely! I have had some great mentorship and support from various people in DWP Digital – Michala Hare, Head of Role in Product has been endlessly supportive and championed anything I’ve identified as something that would benefit me. Malcolm Canvin, a senior product manager, has been amazing with allowing me to shadow their team and talked to me about how their team works and how he plans, tracks, and prioritises work.

Do you believe in the power of networking? If so, where do you network?

Most of the large pieces of work that I have led and got over the line are because of networking. I think the word has been overused by recruiters and recruitment agencies, which has taken away the real meaning behind it. By definition, it’s simply the action or process of interacting with people to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts. Sending that email to ask someone for support, guidance, time, or a chat about a subject that will help you move something forward, is by definition ‘networking’.

I like to think of it more as ‘collaborating’. I do this internally, across government departments, on Slack and LinkedIn. I’m also loving events like NUX for a less formal, but incredibly useful social event with the added bonus of talks from various UX professionals.

What advice would you give to those who aspire to a career in tech?

Don’t let job adverts put you off applying, they can seem daunting with their use of technical language, but most of the skills required to do jobs in digital are less techy and more process, problem-solving (framing) and being good with people. Apply. Have a go. Ask the questions and reach out to those already working in the areas on LinkedIn, to ask for advice.

Also, upskill yourself in accessibility and inclusion. Having an awareness of what it takes to make products, services, and communications accessible and inclusive will not only make you more employable, but it will also give you an awareness of the challenges everyday users, both external and internal face when attempting everyday tasks. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Accessibility (Coga) are your go-to standards.

What does the future hold for you?

Given that I’ve just started as an Associate Product Manager, I’m really hoping to be able to fine-tune my skills and techniques so that I can gain a working-level role as a Product Manager. To do more ‘good work’ and build products, services and teams that are effective, inclusive, and useful.

I’m also writing a talk on ResOps, once I’ve put it out there, who knows – maybe one day I’ll be speaking at a big conference. Whatever I’m doing, I’m aiming high, because if you’re hungry enough for it, Digital seems to just put the ground under your feet as you move.

Read more from our inspirational women here.