Product Management in a Crisis

So I’ve been pretty scarce lately. You’d think that being trapped at home during a pandemic would lend itself to a lot of extra downtime. Instead, I find that I’m busier than I ever was when I was going into the office. Not only has the mechanics of a workday changed, but with the impact of the virus changing on a daily basis, free time seems to be at a premium these days.

To help me get a better perspective on work, I joined a local meetup to talk with other product people about how day to day product management has changed in the last couple of months. What became clear is that a lot of “facts” are now being questioned. Whether it is where you can work effectively to how you do discovery, everything is changing and people are working hard to adapt.

As I looked for ideas on how to lead my team through this change, I found a great article that talked about how software companies need to think about product management and how sudden changes in society force different behaviors.  The author used the analogy of Peacetime vs. Wartime and Driving on a highway vs. driving on a mountain road.  While I get where he was coming from, the “war” analogy can be too much for some. Perhaps there is a slightly different way to think about it.  

Here’s my spin:  Normal vs. Crisis Product Management

We’ll stick with the concept of driving on the highway, but let’s consider how you drive on days where the weather is perfect (sunny, dry, etc.).  Your focus is on your destination and you plan for getting there in the fastest time along the most convenient route.  Basically, you can set the cruise control at 75 and see traffic and road conditions for miles and you have plenty of time to react to any change.   This is Normal Product Management.  

Now what happens when you drive into a sudden thunderstorm?  You drive differently right?  You still think about your destination and you still continue to drive, but your focus changes.  You lose that great visibility and may only be able to see a few feet in front of your car.  You probably slow down a little, because you  want to, but also you assume traffic dynamics have changed as well.  You have to start making assumptions about the road, the other drivers, and possibly how long this storm might last.  You probably also start valuing other things that you may not have needed as much before – your wipers, road signs, etc.  You know you needed them before, but now they are critical to your ability to continue driving.   In this case, you are still trying to get to your destination, but for a short period of your trip, you know you’re going to have to focus a little more on the next 30 miles than you had planned.  

This is product management during a Crisis

We aren’t picking a new type of road or in product’s case a new strategy. We aren’t changing what we are doing or our best practices, but we do need to recognize that we need to change our horizon-focus and priorities for a period of time.