If there was ever a time to test your business’ agility, it’s now.
Having a product on the market is like driving a car in traffic. You can’t drive and just look ahead, ignoring all the things that are happening around. Yes, you have to see where you’re going and see what’s right in front of you, but to stay in control, you need to take an occasional look at the dashboard, control your speed, check the mirrors, and pay attention to the signs. And that’s just your day-to-day, we didn’t get to the crisis part yet.
So how is it: managing your product during a crisis? Well, the truth is, it’s pretty much the same, but on top of everything, you’re also stressing out you might run out of gas (and soon!), and what if there are no gas stations along the way? Should you just turn around?
Here’s a couple of tips from my hands-on experience on how to navigate your product’s growth in an insecure environment, and, hopefully, remain sane along the way (a necessity we tend to forget about).
How to manage a product in a time of crisis:
1. Optimize resources you already have
Growing your business does not have to mean coming up with new and trailblazing product features and conducting big-money market research, especially in a cost-cutting environment. You can increase your profit by making the best of and optimizing the assets that are already there at your fingertips.
Brainstorm the possibilities with your team and ask tough questions. What is the biggest bottleneck for the users using your product? But don’t ruminate: back up your findings with the data you have from various sources (be it heat maps, Google Analytics, other tools you’ve been using to track your performance). Or on the inside: what’s taking your team too much time? How can you be better, faster, stronger at what you’re already doing?
You can take advantage of a flexible agreement with an external agency.
Agencies’ expertise lies in delivering tangible results within a specified scope and time. The client-supplier relationship pushes your external partner to provide value and provide it right here and right now.
It is different to hiring internal employees who are aligned with the company in the long-term, sometimes, not seeing quick wins lying ahead. Hiring an agency might be crucial, especially in a moment of crisis, when fast and efficient results matter the most.
For product companies and SaaS, a somewhat fuel-saving step towards discovering your improvement points would be a UX Audit. You choose the scope: it can be your product as a whole or simply the element you struggle with the most. At the end of every Audit, you get a list of actionable points that can be implemented right away.
A UX Audit is the quickest possible way to discover your product limitations. But it's also a tool that can confirm your biggest strengths, and show you how to build on them.
A UX Audit can be your product's quick win.
2. Think big, but take small steps
Crises, no matter if they’re personal or business ones, have one thing in common: they act as a trigger to accelerate change. But you need to approach your big improvement-driven endeavours cautiously when setting your objectives, both inside and out.
Big goals may be motivating, but they tend to be quite far away, which, after some time may start to feel heavy on your shoulders. Talking only about big issues, and seeing problems in their full dimension, may be overwhelming (for you and your team) and lead to frustration, slowly adding to the sense of insecurity and chaos. And your product doesn’t need that.
The solution, good not only for your product but also for your psyche, is to split big things into smaller, attainable tasks and SMART goals.
Don’t think: we need to maximize activity within our app. Rather, try to break this down into small tasks that answer your users’ real problems: we need to add more images and reduce the amount of text within our onboarding process to reduce the entry barrier.
This is a small step that will bring visible results, and as a part of a bigger process, will also bring you closer to the big goal, and the desired big change. It’s as if you let the Agile approach out of your development process, and applied it to the business side of your project. But in this case you don’t chunk down your work, you chunk down your product goals.
3. Plan, but adjust to what’s going on around
It may be difficult to move away from long-term planning and focusing on more short-term management, as yearly and quarterly plans give you a sense of stability and direction. But during a crisis, your whole environment changes, so it’s only proper to do the same and adapt. You need to prioritize.
Given you’re in the midst of developing a feature that will take a long time to get to the production phase, maybe you can freeze this to expand your product with some low-hanging fruits that can just bring you benefit faster? You need to adjust your planning to the ever-changing surroundings, the quicker they change, the shorter your reaction should be.
The possibilities can vary. At the most intense moments at EL Passion, we were evaluating all of our activities every week (and, if need be, modifying them). Now, we’re doing monthly team plannings to still monitor and adjust our short-term activity, but at the same time, each month we focus on one bigger goal that we want to pursue.
We still keep an eye on the changing present situation and can react quickly, but we don’t lose sight of our long-term goals.
4. Draft different scenarios and don't be caught off guard
When it comes to your general strategy and sketching possible scenarios it very much depends on the organization’s core elements; headcount, revenue etc. With things moving rapidly forward, it’s good to draft your most comprehensive scenario for the upcoming 3 months, and have outlines for 6 and 9 months, but, respectively, they can be significantly less in-depth.
Having different possibilities already listed also contributes to your sense of peace and preparedness. “Just in case” it materializes, you don’t need to spend that much time adjusting, as you’ve already got a cheat sheet that surely will help you manage the situation.
5. KPIs: now more important than ever
Remember that the KPIs you set for your product before the crisis may not be applicable in the present situation. They may be looking too far into the future or maybe the market has turned drastically in the different direction? You need to evaluate them once again and set new ones if the old ones don’t apply.
It might be a good moment to become even more numbers-driven than ever. But do it with a clear purpose. Give some thought into what metrics you want to track and don’t track everything mindlessly. Ask yourself: what numbers contribute to our KPIs the most right now? What metrics we need to follow with utmost importance to stay above water, and what to keep in mind for the long run?
Communicate your KPIs to the rest of your team, so everyone’s on the same page with the goals and can observe how you’re doing and how much you’ve already managed to achieve. Being open and transparent about the numbers can directly boost your team’s overall morale and commitment, as they will be given a sense of common direction.
But don’t forget to always give nuance to the numbers, and put them into context, especially when you communicate them to different teams (if they’re not used to working with numbers on a daily basis, it might be difficult for them to catch up at first).
Numbers give you precious insights, but they're surely not everything.
An important note: don’t focus all your attention on the numbers exclusively. They are there to guide you, not to suppress your creativity or an open mind, and they definitely can’t give you the full picture of your product. Don’t forget about the aspect of qualitative analysis and people's feedback. There are issues and improvement points that can’t be captured by the numbers. You’ve got a team of professionals on board, and at times it’s good to rely on their judgement or gut feeling.
The takeaway: regain control of the situation
Some of the things I mentioned may feel obvious, but given the situation, we’re all in right now: trying to navigate through the chaos in its full complexity, it gets too easy to forget the basics.
My last advice would be: focus on what you can control, not on what you cannot. Do quick iterations and evaluate your efforts regularly and with full transparency. If there was ever a time to test your business’ agility, it’s now.