5 tips on product management in a time of crisis
As John Donne famously said, “No man is an island entire of itself,” and the same is true for products. The context in which a product operates can be the key to its success or failure, which is why every savvy product manager takes time to understand market conditions, conduct thorough user testing and track what the competition is up to. Armed with this knowledge, you’re much more likely to make the right decisions for the future of your product and to ensure that it goes from strength to strength.
But what happens when something unexpected takes place in your external environment which has an impact on your user behaviour, your internal operations and maybe even ultimately your profitability? What can you do to mitigate disaster, to learn from your experience, and to come out stronger?
At 10Clouds we work with product owners and managers from all parts of the globe and from a vast range of different sectors, from banking through to education. We wanted to share with you what we’ve learnt over the years about digital product management in crisis times and offer tips which you too might find useful.
1. Conduct a thorough audit of your situation
You’ve likely done one or more audits throughout your product journey, but conducting one in a time of crisis is more important than ever before. How are your customers struggling when using your product? Where are the pain points? Note that in times of crisis, these might have changed.
Get access to as much data as possible about client behaviour through the tools at your disposal and track how this has changed over time. Are there any quick wins that you can make to your product that might offer solutions to customers’ current problems?
Example: Mindful Chef is a company delivering ingredients for healthy meals throughout the UK. During the first COVID-19 lockdown it diversified its offer to provide ‘Next Day Care boxes’ responding to the needs of clients who were unable to or concerned about leaving the house to go to the shops and needed meals delivered quickly (either for themselves or for their loved ones). Before this, they would have had to wait a week for their next delivery. The offer was a huge success.
If you’re the owner or manager of a SaaS product, you might choose to opt for a UX Audit. We’ve previously written about how a UX Audit can help you to solve problems and deliver a seamless user journey, so take a look about what this entails and how it might benefit you.
A UX Audit is the process of pinpointing areas of improvement of your existing digital product that will reveal which parts of the site are causing issues for users or blocking them from achieving goals.
Simply put, the UX audit will help uncover what is working, what is not, why it’s not working, and how to improve it.
2. Reevaluate your goals
When life throws your business a curveball, your instinct might be to scrap all the goals that you’ve set for yourself and to start from scratch, but this is rarely the right solution.
Instead, it's worth meeting with all your stakeholders more regularly than before to track progress against existing targets and to re-evaluate these based on the data that you’re currently collecting.
It then makes sense to scale back those which are no longer achievable and to break down those which are into more manageable actions. Sounds almost like working in Sprints, doesn’t it? If you have a project management team, they will definitely come into their own here.
And remember - don’t let go of the ultimate goal. It might just take you longer to achieve it due to forces beyond your control.
3. Allocate the right resources
This is a tough one, because in many cases human resources form the most vital part of product teams and resource reallocation might lead to making staff redundant.
However, if you’ve conducted a thorough audit of your situation (point 1 above), you should have a better understanding of how much resource you’re likely to need a month, two months and three months down the line and be able to act accordingly.
There will be some fairly obvious quick measures that you might implement:
- If you were looking to move into a large office, you could look into putting off the move until the situation stabilizes itself
- If you wanted to hire a new team to work on a product feature for example, you might look into using an agency on a short-term basis instead
- If you’ve identified one area that is likely to bring you quick wins financially, and to win customer trust and loyalty, reallocate your staffing resources to cover this if you can.
4. Be ruthless in your prioritization
This is something that likely goes without saying, but now is the time to cut back on anything non-essential to enable your product to weather the storm. Any additional product features that you were planning, and which are nice-to-haves but won’t bring you any immediate benefit, should be put on the backburner.
When it comes to prioritizing, you should also do so in your own workload - scale back on all your usual work commitments so that you can devote more time to crisis management planning.
5. Have a plan B, and C, and maybe even D
Nobody can predict the future, but armed with the audit that you’ve conducted (point 1), it’s worth taking the time to prepare multiple action plans for the coming two quarters based on how you think the external crisis is likely to develop.
Decide on each possible scenario, and based on its likelihood draw up a list of actions that you would take if it were to take place, the resources that you would need, and any additional support that you may need to call in.
Such planning will give you peace of mind and will enable you to regain some control over the situation.
In a crisis, the two main things to focus on are regular audits (even if only small ones) and planning. They may both seem like obvious points, but keeping track of the changing behaviours of your clients in light of what’s happening externally will help you win back control and understand where to take action.