Product Management In Corona Times

Times are difficult, unpredictable and fickle. We all wish for this to be better, but we also have to be realistic that this will get much worse before it gets stable and eventually better. Whether this will happen in a few days, few weeks or a few months is unknown.

In this post, I wanted to share some thoughts on how to handle and manage your product in times like these.

Every single business and product today will either have a headwind or a tailwind. There are no products that are going business as usual right now. Both types of businesses need to make their amendments fast enough.

Some challenges that product teams across the world are facing:

  • Remote — What’s happening right now is not distributed, this is not an extension of WFH. This is remote for all people at all times. Hardly any company is used to it.
  • Goal changes — Whatever was decided for 2020 is hardly relevant. That’s the truth! The longer one takes believing that, more the sunk costs.
  • Business impact — Needless to say, for most headwind products, there are massive impact on all numbers. Impacts revenue in short term, business models in longer term.
  • Unpredictability — The biggest worry today is limited understanding on what will happen next. No one has confident clarity on the impact or the duration yet, it’s mostly speculative.
  • Equilibrium disruptions — Right now, massive disruptions are happening across value chains in all industries. Leading to change in economic setup from both macro and micro perspectives. Such large scale equilibrium shifts are unheard of.

Some notes on how product teams can choose to react in times like this —

Be OK to let go processes made during peace time

If you spend the last few months to build a wonderful process which solves communication problems, does goal alignment but slows down execution for the sake of perfect development of features, feel free to let go of some of those bureaucratic burdens for the need of the hour.

This is the time to be very frugal not just with money but with people’s bandwidth and feature scope.

Move prioritisation to the shortest duration possible to keep your creation engine moving

Don’t make product prioritisation and business goal decisions once every 6 weeks! Make them weekly (Daily if you are a very small team). Observe what’s going on in your market on an everyday level. Be agile enough to change the direction on a weekly manner.

I am strong believer in theory Y, but in times like these it’s ok to direct clear execution items to the team. Of course, the teams should also understand the rationale because remote work brings fear as well. This is no time to take care of high maintenance folks in your team.

Question current Business goals and change them as per the needs of survival for next 2–3 months

If you are a headwind product, Talk about all the current items in your pipeline and have a simple check — essential or not? If you are still building items that might give some growth, well, it’s not the right time. You can build all those when things are better

If you are a tailwind product (like healthcare, charity products etc), observe the new behaviours that are coming out. These behaviours might be very different from your existing power users. Also, you will get a lot of new user segments with different needs in times like these. Make sure you are building for them.

If you were heavy on discounting or burn, this would be a good time to remove any unnecessary money burning activities to keep the numbers up.

Use your product’s distribution to genuinely help your consumers

This is true for both headwind and tailwind products. If you are a headwind product and your users are not getting to use your features, be open to use the distribution to solve time relevant problems. You can either choose to stay rigid and believe that this is short term and your product will become relevant again or you can use this time to build stronger trust with your users by giving them some features / products / services that will help them in times like these. If you build this trust now, you will retain those users for sure when times are good.

If you are a tailwind product (like healthtech), use this time to build stronger user base and build their trust. You can also choose to use this time to build a strong revenue stream but if do anything evil at times like these, people will always remember. So make sure that while this is an opportunity time for you, you stay ethical and do what’s right for the world.

Consider worst case scenario coverage and be open to pivot

Your product’s usage might be down because of lockdowns etc. This is explainable today. What if stays like this for 4 weeks, 4 months, 4 quarters? Read the signals and think about pivoting fast. All the lessons on MVPs and shipping are relevant now. Test your hunches through simple but relevant products. Users will be a lot more forgiving in times like these as long as their essential requirements are getting solved.

Redefine product goals more towards efficiency than delight

Everyone across the world are in survival mode. People are not expecting finesse in the product experiences, they are looking for reliability. If there was a time to build products using first principles, this is it. This doesn’t mean that one should ship shitty undone products, this means that polishing on aspects that make a product visually stunning and classy can wait while products that consistently get the work done will thrive. This are peak ‘Function over Form’ times.

Stay Safe. Stay Strong. Help People.

by Diwakar Kaushik

Diwakar is an Operating Partner @ Go-Ventures. He was earlier VP of Product @ Go-Jek and prior to that was Head of Product @ Peppertap. He also runs the Product Design Blog where this article was originally published.

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