Navigating the new normal will require a shift in thinking to discover unmet needs and embrace new opportunities.
Customer needs and business opportunities are in constant flux as COVID-19 continues to create an environment of uncertainty for leaders across all disciplines, but specifically for product managers, as they are tasked with owning and managing teams to create intuitive digital touchpoints for demanding customers. As a result of heightened virtual living, new pain points are being revealed in the customer experience — to which product managers will need to identify, react, and adapt to in order to make customers’ lives easier post-pandemic.
Product managers, who turn complex problems into viable digital solutions, are at the very epicenter of impact within their organizations. To plan for the post-pandemic future, and enhance the success of any digital product, product managers will need to maintain tunnel vision for only creating innovative products that drive strong user retention and revenue growth.
To thrive in this new normal, here are three key principles every product manager should consider implementing into their software development teams.
1. Velocity is Better Than Speed
As more traditional companies transition to become more digitally mature, product management professionals will be faced with a list of new product growth opportunities. Product managers will be in higher demand to solve new problems for users and will need to move with velocity to maintain momentum.
Increasing velocity, however, doesn’t solely mean speeding up production; it means finding methods to do things in the right order, while supporting teams in a way that produces more value. Product managers can do this by establishing processes that are standard and reproducible. This allows leaders to spend less time figuring out how to best work and quickly define what to work on and understand deliverables.
Another method to increase velocity as a product manager is to be the guardrail for your software development team. By leading the conversation about what “good” and “done” look like for any particular product, managers can organically spread a product-centric mindset throughout their teams and work together to achieve success. Product managers should encourage the team to think about “doneness” instead of perfection, especially in today’s day and age when speed to market is so critical for businesses.
Additionally, it’s up to the manager to give clear direction to the team. Speed without direction is useless. Team members will regularly look to their product manager to validate if they’re focusing on the most valuable problems first. This can be done by creating an environment where team members feel comfortable building a clear communication loop and receive quick responses and feedback on things they are working on from the product manager.
Product leaders can shorten internal learning curves through productive iteration and get products to market faster. Asking better questions between teams can lead to great velocity — allowing them to optimize resources efficiently and change course in light of new feedback.
2. Accept That Objectives and Outcomes Will Be Different
As new solutions come to fruition, business objectives and outcomes will inevitably change. Product managers will only succeed by rapidly adjusting to customers’ ever-changing needs accordingly, and by creating realistic new outcomes.
For example, if you operate a large retail outlet, building and implementing a social distancing solution and enforcing capacity rules may not be realistic for you in the short-term, especially if you are trying to safeguard your revenues. But offering curbside pick-up for those customers who are in a hurry, or who are continuing to maintain social distancing may be a more realistic approach.
Keeping well-communicated key performance indicators (KPIs) at the center of all changing operations will be paramount to defining success. Customers increasingly demand easy-to-use, simple, and enjoyable digital services that allow them to solve a problem faster and better than the non-digital equivalent or competing solution. Measurable KPIs, such as customer retention or market positioning, should coincide with new friction points to ensure companies are directly targeting areas for improvement and responding rapidly to users’ expectations.
3. Focus on Clarity
No matter the outcome or the velocity at which you’re moving, product managers should still aim to create clarity for their teams. If it’s unclear why, how, or for whom a product is being developed, teams will be unable to measure success (or failure) against outlined KPIs.
One way to provide clarity to meet KPIs is to spend time planning user stories. This includes well-defined requirements, wireframes, and, where possible, writing functional test cases when preparing a new user story. These product requirement artifacts will allow the engineering team to ask clear and specific questions early on, and will thus lead to clarity before any code is written, resulting in higher quality.
Quality delivery, in such uncertain times, is extremely important because product managers cannot simply carry on business as usual. The time to deliver new solutions in the current environment is now. While there will continue to be opportunities to iterate and improve, it’s also important to get good quality solutions out quickly. It’s the responsibility of product managers to focus heavily on clarity for the team. This will only be achieved by creating a collaborative working environment within teams, in turn allowing product managers (and their quality assurance counterparts) to move with more easily tested, unprecedented scenarios, and launch only the most viable products.
In this new normal, product managers should be seeking and embracing new opportunities to enhance products and be ready to disrupt their current product roadmap. They should be prepared to launch products fast and frequently, and then collect and react to feedback. This will determine post-pandemic growth and success for themselves and their products. Implementing the three principles listed above will assist product managers to thrive throughout this disruption, and enable them to navigate with a decent level of certainty in these highly uncertain times.