Product Managers, This is What a Pivot Feels Like

Nino Lancette
Oct 26, 2016 · 4 min read

I’ve just emerged from a couple of depressing weeks. That’s how long it took to discard mental models, reset user interface principles and purge the roadmap. For days, I battled a feeling of having wasted efforts. At one point, I questioned my competence as a Product Manager and even considered a career change. Our company had just decided to pivot on our customer segment.

Of course, I saw the pivot coming. Feedback had been streaming in from beta testers, users and enterprise partners for weeks. We knew a change of course was necessary, but it was still a hard corner to negotiate without crashing.

☝🏽How to pivot like a pro

We run our company on lean principles, listening to customers, measuring market feedback and quickly iterating toward product/market fit. I’m used to scoping, prototyping, testing features and dropping/iterating them when they miss the mark. It’s a bruising process especially when you get invested in the technical development of the feature. But it’s nothing compared to the trauma of a pivot.

For better or for worse, some Product Managers get passionate about their product and start to associate their personal success to that of their product. So when you realise that your product isn’t right for your chosen segment, it’s hard not to take it as a personal failure.

Don’t take this personally. You know we go by the market. Plus, it’s hardly a big change of direction .” our CEO said to me.

Several weeks on and a clean new roadmap in hand, I feel excited about our product again. I mean, it was just a customer segment pivot. Our team is still awesome and one of the best to deliver to our users. I feel back is the co-pilot seat, driving our product to PMF. But this is what the whole thing felt like a couple of weeks ago.

The moment it sinks in: you misjudged the market trajectory. You didn’t read the signs and now you’re off-road. BAM! 💥. It feels like you just crashed an expense racing car. So much work wrecked, wasted because of you.

From that point, there’s no room for emotional goodbyes. Your carefully curated roadmap gets brutally cleared. the redundant features and versions. No niceties here, archive en masse. It hurts.

As the company starts to turn, you feel less secure, like being squeezed out. Hold on to your seat and be ready to withstand a few Gs. Those who weren’t strapped are dropped so you buckle up.

You’re confused for a moment. It’s not a car anymore. It’s not a boat yet. It’s a car-boat! Your product is undergoing rapid transformation. It feels awkward to look at. It’s weird to lead the product team of your car-boat.

This is fun after all. It’ still weird but you find new thrills to this product. Wooohooo! Look at all the awesome things we can do with it. Dang! Customers are gonna love this!

The next time the team contemplates a pivot (hopefully not the same team …) you’ll do it like a pro. Hand brake up. Hard right. Release. Left. Hit the gas.

Nino Lancette

Written by

Product leadership at Megi. Sauerkraut enthusiast. Tofu connoisseur.