Product Management in Changing Times (Part 1): The Shock
When governments around the world introduced their respective lockdowns, even the most prepared organisations and product teams did not have long to respond.
As lockdown kicked-off, organisations and product teams started on a journey through 3 phases of disruption: Shock, Temporary Normal and New Futures. Across 3 articles, I want to explore each of these and provide thoughts and considerations to help manage through these uncertain times.
Let’s start with shock …
Dealing with a shock
In the face of a pretty quick turnaround, from work as normal to full blown pandemic (see sample changes in demand below), everyone had to scramble to adapt – some more than others, but all trying to find the best course to chart.
As a result, most organisations (85% according to research by the Board of Innovation) had to instigate change. In the product management domain, this will have centred on people & leadership, ways of working and product strategy.
People & leadership
Approaches to people and leadership will have adjusted to focus on:
- Ensuring direct and indirect team members are safe and have everything they need to manage through the change.
- Listening and showing empathy for any concerns as they were raised.
- Providing context and clear guidance on the priorities
- Giving and demonstrating trust by providing teams with (virtual) space to get the job done.
- Managing the needs of anyone furloughed, who had lost their job or had an increased sense of uncertainty.
All while managing significant changes in personal lives: from processing concerns about the disruption to managing relationships and family, checking in on friends, staying sane, getting used to restrictions on personal freedom, and let’s not forget the early rush to acquire pasta and toilet roll!
Ways of working
Ways of working will have shifted to support remote working. Including:
- Moving from quarterly to weekly or next priority delivery plans, activities and updates (maybe even going to a war room setting for significantly impacted products).
- Adapting practices and communications to a virtual world (e.g. video 1-2-1s, stand-ups, planning sessions, workshops, updates and team meetings; online workflow and document collaboration, and remote customer research).
- Creating new work patterns (e.g. new routines, mixing work with home schooling and ensuring you stay connected with the world beyond your home).
- Setting up a home office (e.g. creating space, acquiring equipment and upgrading internet connections).
Without shutting people down (completely) on topics of style and grace, product delivery will have moved to fast delivery to users over refinement (of course without creating too many problems to unpick in the future!).
Depending on your team and organisational context, the level of change will have varied. For companies like Buffer, DuckDuckGo, InVision and Zapier who already work remotely, this will have (mostly) been like any other day. While companies with office-based teams will have had to make much larger shifts.
Understanding the likely or actual impact on the product goals and strategies, re-assessment and re-planning will have likely taken place to ensure focus on the most pressing businesses priorities and customer needs. Including:
- Building resilience, protection and or support
- Developing or adjusting existing features
- Bringing forward or adding new features
- Changing direction
- Creating new products
- Delaying product or feature launches
- Changing pricing, product packages, distribution channels, customer support and messages
- Adjusting goals, tracking metrics and budgets
Product strategy changes
Examples of product strategy changes as the situation evolved include:
- Google (pausing non-security related releases)
- Google Meet (making paid services free)
- Zoom (adding end-to-end encryption)
- YouTube, Apple TV, Disney and Netflix (throttling their services)
- Atlassian (making Jira and Confluence free)
- Microsoft (offering a free 6 month trial of Teams)
- Instagram (making DMs available in browsers)
- Brewdog (launching an online bar)
- BBC (launching it shared watching product)
- Facebook (launching its video chat service)
- Netflix (launching its Party service)
- Instagram (launching a co-watching feature)
- AirBnB (switching to hosting key workers and launching its online experiences)
- Nike (waving fees for online exercise classes)
- NHS Digital, Apple & Google (creating contact tracing apps)
- Google Ads (launching a services to support advertisers)
- AccuRx (launching video appointments with patients)
- Babylon Health (launching a COVID chatbot)
- Dating apps (increasing prominence of video features)
- Shopify (bringing forward the launch of an email service for its small business customers)
- Sofarsounds (shifting from live to virtual gig experiences incl. a price model change)
- Waze (highlighting and navigating users to emergency food centres and coronavirus testing sites)
- PepsiCo (creating new digital channel with pantry.com)
At this point (and all other points), available resourcing, capacity and budgets may have become an issue that you needed to address or through redistribution to the areas that needed them most, this will have been addressed quickly.
Onto phase 2
That’s it for phase 1, continue to Product Management in Changing Times (Part 2): Temporary Normal