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Partnership Working: The Product Owner's View

In summer 2020 Principle One launched a new partnership with TRAFFIC, a non-government organisation (NGO) that works to combat wildlife crime and illegal trade and to support sustainable trade in wildlife. TRAFFIC needed help solving some of their toughest data challenges, and Principle One were in the process of planning our summer internship programme. Time and again we have found that the most successful internships are those where interns have a chance to lead their own project (coached and supported by more experienced members of staff), rather than work shadowing or dipping into longer term projects. This approach provides the opportunity to truly develop skills, experience the “journey” of a project, and begin to build up some subject matter expertise.

Ben Brock, a Wildlife Crime Analyst at TRAFFIC, took on the product owner role for this project and provided TRAFFIC’s reflections on our partnership:

“TRAFFIC’s lifeblood is data: we collect, assess and report on the changing patterns of the legal and illegal wildlife trade. We continually seek to collect from a range of governmental and news sources to inform our assessments; it is the ever-present task of filtering signal from noise.

As with most organisations, TRAFFIC is entirely at capacity with all staff time allocated to identified project tasks. With our noses so close to the grindstone we don’t have an opportunity to sit back and reflect on whether the technology we are using is still the most effective. I’m not sure what replaced the grindstone, but I lack the time to research it as I lack the time to explore emerging technologies.

Talking about emerging technologies brings to mind AI and quantum computing. Obviously as an NGO we’re not exploring those bleeding edge technologies, but as new tools develop others move down the price point into the space where low cost, or flexibly priced technology, starts to offer attractive opportunities. Small expenditure can reduce staff time on a task, thereby reducing the overall cost of delivering a project.

Principle One has been invaluable in considering what tools, within our price bracket, can deliver against our needs. Interestingly the act of defining tasks for the project provided a moment of organisational reflection: what do we do? What do we need? What will we do with it when we have it? Working through this project really enhanced my thinking of my own work as we faced the questions that good business analysts bring and talked through the answers.

Another huge area of benefit has been sorting the wheat from the chaff. The data processing marketplace is full of promises—if one tenth of them were true I suspect I would already be kneeling before our robot overlords. The Principle One team has done an incredible job of sifting and filtering the marketplace based on our requests, and making recommendations following their research. They have gone on to trial tools, going through the time-devouring process of installing, patching, troubleshooting and then using them. This is invaluable as they have sifted the connivance from the capability, the promises from the performance. Some tools fall at capability points or unhelpful data output standards, some on user interface. If bright, capable, technically proficient consultants can’t get an installed tool delivering within three days I don’t want to recommend to my SRO that we bring it into TRAFFIC.

While much of the data we access is open source, we had to be confident that this junior team was supported and could draw on the expertise of their experienced colleagues in Principle One when handling our most sensitive data. I cannot think of a single time that this safety net came into play, but it is immensely reassuring as a Project Manager and Data Owner to see all of the thinking and careful preparation that went into supporting the team throughout.

The interns were sadly only with us for the summer, but were replaced by two members of Principle One’s new cohort of graduate consultants. It is a strong endorsement of Principle One’s recruitment and training that the output from our new consultants continued to be excellent. The team’s impressive performance comes with its own challenge, namely the desire to keep adding more to their plate. As colleagues across TRAFFIC have seen Principle One’s expertise and competence, their appetite for assistance has grown and we now have a host of people making all manner of requests. Such is the price of success.”


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