How to Pivot a Product Roadmap Quickly in Times of Uncertainty
Take these steps to help your business weather the storm and find a successful path forward right now.
We are in a moment of unprecedented change and upheaval. Covid-19 is forcing businesses across nearly every industry and sector to face new challenges and reckon with a rapidly shifting landscape for operations. Being able to respond to these significant market shifts quickly and efficiently, and to meet customers in new and perhaps unexpected ways, is essential.
We at Myplanet have compiled a list of six actions to take for setting a new course, fast, to ensure your business meets this moment with confidence:
1—Understand and Respond to Short-term Needs
When faced with a situation like the one we’re facing now—a global pandemic shutting regular operations down on a mass scale and forcing everyone to narrow their place in the world significantly—there will be long-term ramifications to consider. But before we can get to those considerations, we need to get through this moment, here and now. Which is why the first order of business in pivoting a product roadmap during a crisis is to understand and respond to the short-term changes in the environment.
This is slightly more complicated than it seems. Understanding not just how your situation is impacted, but how the changes happening all around will impact your business and your customers requires a somewhat more holistic view of things. It goes beyond your stores, your supply chains, and your staff and extends into new realities of how all stores, all supply chains, and all people are adapting their habits and routines. New modes of operation are being built constantly and your top priority is finding ways to work within them.
Anything that must be done to meet your immediate business needs should have as many hands as necessary doing it— regardless of other, pre-existing priorities. Do you need to rapidly deploy touchless pick-up or drop-off points? Or quickly launch realtime service or product update systems? Or establish info centres with front-line workers who can speak directly to customers? Evaluate your most pressing business needs and move to act on them as quickly as possible to ensure your business remains as steady and operates as seamlessly as it can as the world shifts dramatically around it.
2 — Look for Changing Modes of Interaction
Having responded to immediate crises and ensured the continuing operation of your business, the next step is to evaluate the new ways people interact with products and services. These will undoubtedly shift during times of change, so keep your ears and eyes attuned to these changes in your industry or vertical, but also in the world at large. Be ready to realign long-term to those spaces. Meeting customers where they are will matter more than ever during these moments of uncertainty and your ability to do that long-term will play a big part in enduring success once the immediate crisis passes.
“In the face of a pandemic, the way we think, behave and perceive the world starts to alter… Over 80% of those we surveyed have made at least one change to their day-to-day lives as a direct result of the coronavirus outbreak.” — GlobalWebIndex
Use social listening, pay attention to the kinds of items that gain the most traction and more importantly, to the channels and mediums they’re shared on. Once you’ve got a hypothesis of what’s working, construct plans that fit your business needs and that allow you to test opportunity spaces without a lot of overhead. Time and money are in short supply, especially during upheaval, so use lightweight experiments to test quickly and adjust accordingly.
That said, don’t lose sight of who your audience is. An uptick in video consumption is an important data point to consider, but Gen Z may turn to TikTok while Baby Boomers rely on Facebook. Shifting to a video-heavy strategy requires very different efforts for each of those mediums and audiences. Pay attention to the important generational or other demographic markers that can help ensure you get your new interactions right.
3 — Present a United Front
When uncertainty is swirling, it’s important that your organization presents a unified voice, both internally and externally. Creating a clear and simple communications plan should be one of your highest priorities right now.
Internally, messages from leadership need to be clearly and unfailingly aligned. This establishes an organization-level understanding that everyone is on board with the changing plans, giving staff the trust and confidence to act quickly as new directives are announced. The world may be in a period of instability, but your internal team needs to be solid as a rock when responding to it.
Externally, your customers need to feel that same sense of confidence. As your business pivots and adjusts, it’s important those moves are seen as proactive efforts to stay ahead of crises, and not frantic, panicked reactions to what’s already happening around you. Your organization needs to be a clear, cohesive front across departments, channels, and any and all public facing arenas when establishing new routines, new modes of communication, and new models for conducting business. An organization that comes across with confidence and a sense of stability is always going to be more trustworthy in the eyes of their consumers.
Finally, this is a great opportunity to leverage front-line staff. Teams can be quickly trained for new temporary roles, whether it’s as customer service reps helping customers onboard to new online tools or as brand ambassadors on social media, which some businesses in China did (to great effect) in response to market shifts caused by quarantine measures.
As long as messaging aligns company-wide, this can be a powerful new tool for connecting. If your customer engages a new feature, mode of service, or even encounters an interruption, the language that surrounds it must be the same everywhere. For example, if you are extending your refund policy to 14 days, make sure it’s never called a 2-week policy in any documentation or communication channels. Remember: product can include the service design that supports it, so consistency is key.
By leveraging staff presence and expertise with consumers through unified messaging, organizations can emphasize an “all in this together” mentality, encouraging consumer confidence along the way.
4 —Be Flexible
When circumstances shift quickly and the landscape you’re working with is constantly in flux, one of the best things you can do is set your teams up with specific missions and give them the space to execute on them. Being able to pivot isn’t just a top-down directive, it’s a bottom-up necessity. Major strategic shifts should come from leadership, but the teams executing on those changes need to be given the space to do so in a way that works for them in the changing morass.
A crucial component of succeeding through flexibility is the establishment of short-cycle communications routines. This ensures new project turn-arounds aren’t held up by unnecessary delays, that there isn’t a lot of back-and-forth for approvals, and that teams are empowered to do what their on-the-ground expertise tells them is best. Because saving time in action is important for staying ahead of a rapidly moving curve. Which brings us to step 5…
5 — Make Decisions Quickly
Lag times between concept and execution can be detrimental in this kind of quick-moving environment. We’ve long been proponents of Lean and Agile practices, using them to help guide us in delivering the right solutions efficiently— we’ve even helped establish those practices with some of our Fortune 500 customers. And there’s a good reason for that.
We push for this mode of operation because a Lean mindset and Agile routines allow for empowered, rapid decision making, which is essential to being able to respond to changes in real time. If you’ve picked up on a new mode of interaction you think will work well for reaching your customers in this moment (e.g., video), you don’t have time to set up a new department and bring in established expertise. You need a small faction of people to do quick research, run some lightweight tests to establish a baseline, and to continue to iterate rapidly as you roll the new solution out. Getting bogged down in bureaucracy is never good, but at a time like this, it could be disastrous.
6— Give teams permission to prioritize
Finally, you need to give your teams permission to act on the most important items. That means teams may need to drop lower priority items or shift focus areas when it’s truly an “all hands on deck” situation. It can also mean giving your teams more latitude to act in what they believe are the organization’s best interests. Either way, one of the best things you can do during a changeful time is to equip your teams with the ability to do what’s necessary.
The tendency in times of uncertainty is to tighten the reins, hold everything closer and attempt to micromanage everything. We all want to believe we alone have the power to minimize impact if we just hold tight enough. But that’s just not the case.
The team at P & C, the people behind the community-building manual Get Together, note that “Breaking leadership up into manageable chunks and distributing those nuggets of ownership effectively is part of being a creative, inspiring leader in trying times.”
To be clear: this doesn’t mean everyone does whatever they want. As noted earlier, strategic decisions need to come from the leadership level and be communicated clearly to all. Be sure that everyone knows what the top priorities are and even more importantly, what it means for something to be considered a top priority. (If something is a must do, for example, then it needs to be understood that other items can be ignored for the time being.) Ultimately, this requires quite a bit of input from leadership, whose situational awareness provides them with invaluable insight into how best to address changes on a macro level.
Leadership needs give over the process of executing on the now critical functions to the people who know their subject matter areas best. Allow managers to implement changes that streamline processes for their teams to accomplish what needs to be done. Once leadership has established the key areas requiring organizational energy and clarified which normal functions can suffer temporarily to ensure organizational success long-term, it’s crucial to allow teams the room to follow-through.
There are no silver bullet solutions at a time like this. The ground will continue to shift and that means even if there were a sure-fire, can’t miss solution today, it probably wouldn’t work tomorrow or next week or next month. What you can do is set yourself up to best be able to respond to the changing landscape so that as potential solutions present themselves, you’ll be able to enact them quickly and adjust as needed with ease. Open your communication channels internally and empower your teams to act. Come together to meet customers where they are and move quickly. And most importantly, accept that change is the only thing you can be sure of right now.
Are you at a pivot point and not sure where to go or what to do to next? Talk to one of our team members at Myplanet — we can help.