WHO Case Study: We Increased the COVID Vaccination Response via ‘Partners Platform’

The Client: the World Health Organization

Founded in 1948, WHO is the United Nations agency that connects nations, partners, and people to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable – so everyone, everywhere can attain the highest level of health.

Dedicated to the well-being of all people and guided by science, the World Health Organization leads and champions global efforts to give everyone, everywhere an equal chance to live a healthy life.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

The Mission: Interim Product Manager

We joined to support and assist the WHO Health Emergencies Program team and strengthen the delivery process of the WHO Partners Platform, a virtual tool for readiness and planning during health emergencies, supporting governments in managing their pandemic response. The Partners Platform enables governments, UN Agencies, and other partners to work together to identify funding gaps and meet demands for strengthening emergency response and essential health services.

During the mission, we strengthened the delivery process and also helped deliver several additional features that support governments with their pandemic response.

How We Helped

Strengthened the Development Process

When we first joined, the Scrum rituals were mixed and the meetings often lacked purpose. We started by refocusing the rituals:

  • The daily to focus on current work and blocking points.
  • The refinement to tidy up the backlog and estimate future work.
  • The planning to set the scope of the next sprint.

After straightening out the rituals, we tackled work item quality:

  • Together with the developers, we identified the critical pieces of information needed for each type of work item (stories, bugs, one-off import/export tasks, etc.).
  • Created standard work item structures that combined best practices with WHO-specific needs. These standard structures made it easier to spot incomplete work items and allowed us to ask the right questions to stakeholders.

As a results, work items were refined and ready for development faster and needed fewer stakeholder interactions. Proper rituals and higher quality work items increased the team's effectiveness.

However, few things change as rapidly as the pandemic. We were facing constant priority shifts, which naturally led to scope creep and half-finished work being dragged from sprint to sprint. As a remedy, we introduced story point estimation. Aside from helping the team understand their velocity, estimation helped plan more realistic sprints with a buffer for unexpected tasks and allowed us to negotiate ticket swaps if we were at risk of scope creep.

Eventually, within the first month we started hitting our sprints goals and releases more regularly. The added stability also made communication and training of the users  easier.

Documented the Platform

In the heat of the moment, documentation is not the highest priority. We rolled up our sleeves and did the unglamorous work of documenting the platform. This resulted in a wiki describing the various functionalities, notifications, and APIs, as well as the delivery process. The wiki is now used throughout the wider team whenever they need to know something about the platform. One of the essential parts of the wiki is Glossary.

The wiki also gave us an opportunity to improve transparency on discovery work, as we maintained pages for new features and initiatives that evolved with the discovery work:

  • In the early stages of an initiative, it would contain the context, objective, metrics, and initial assumptions.
  • During the discovery, this evolved with prototypes, early designs, and requirements, open questions, and discovered answers.

The document provided clarity on what we knew, what was still uncertain, and what required validation. Each page served as working documents, initiative status documents, and initiative documentation.

🔄 The initiative documents helped bring the team and stakeholders together and provided transparency on the initiatives.

Expedited Therapeutics Initiative

One of the most intense and rewarding efforts we worked on at WHO was the Therapeutics Initiative. This endeavor helps countries to gain access to WHO-recommended therapeutics for patients with severe or critical cases of COVID-19 through a fair and equitable process.

When we were brought on board, in late December 2021, time was of the essence. The Therapeutics team wanted to support countries with therapeutics during Q1 2022 but they lacked the necessary tools. They needed tools to collect the information from countries to facilitate the process as well as tools to track and visualize progress to different internal and external partners.

We decided to shift priorities to support this need in tight dealines:

  • Had the first survey tool up on the platform in mid-January.
  • Worked with the BI team at WHO to visualize data from this new survey.
  • By the end of January, work on the first step in the process was finalized and we started development for the second step in the process, which was launched in mid-February.

Through close collaboration with the developers, different teams at WHO, and various decision-makers, we delivered the necessary tools on time for countries to gain access to these Therapeutics during Q1 2022.

Delivered Outcomes

💡 Improved team efficiency and effectiveness through refocused and purposeful Scrum ceremonies.
💡 Reduced scope creep and improved stakeholder management through story point estimation and improved work item quality.
💡 Improved transparency on discovery work through proper initiative documentation.
💡 Successfully scoped and delivered the necessary tools to support the COVID-19 therapeutics initiative for Q1 2022.

In the Client's Own Words

Space Crew of this Mission

Alex Bahlk
Alex Bahlk
Group Product Manager
Pim Welting
Pim Welting
Product Manager I
Staci Chen
Staci Chen
Product Manager I

For Clients: When to Hire Us

You can hire us as an Interim/Freelance Product Manager or Product Owner

It takes, on average, three to nine months to find the right Product Manager to hire as a full-time employee. In the meantime, someone needs to fill in the void: drive cross-functional initiatives, decide what is worth building, and help the development team deliver the best outcomes.
If you're looking for a great Product Manager / Product Owner to join your team ASAP, Product People is a good plug-and-play solution to bridge the gap.