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With COVID-19 spreading exponentially by the day, there’s plenty of evidence that the situation is wreaking havoc with both business supply chains and business demand. Whatever the situation as I write this, it’s likely to change again within days. 

With a surge of workers engaged from their home locations, new dynamics are being created, our business forecasts and our day-to-day work environments are likely to be quite a departure from the norm of just weeks ago. In one such example, a TSIA Field Services poll captured in a March 17th webinar revealed that almost half of the participating companies have already or are considering renegotiating the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with their providers. According to our data, as of March 26th, 42% of self-reporting members are offering grace periods on renewals of their technology and services. Disruption reigns. (**Update** As of Mar 31st, that number had almost doubled to 78%!)

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Product management functions as a proxy for the overall business – covering strategy, offer and pricing design, UX and product definition, and product operations – and is naturally at the very epicenter of impact within the organization. Our collective job is to steer the business ship with a set of steady hands in both calm and choppy waters of the marketplace, watching for trends with our compasses and weather forecasts, combining that with our collective skills and experience to safely navigate with optimal speed the path towards our targets. 

When we now find our business boat in a hurricane, we are immediately faced with a potentially infinite number of uncertainties through which we must navigate with our crew, some immediate and others less so. Is our business boat taking on water? Should we still head towards the previously planned financial target destination? Shall we navigate the previously identified path or change course? Is there a new and better destination in the face of the storm? How much agility in what we offer, how we price, and where we seek opportunities must we demonstrate in the face of the business uncertainties?

Prioritizing Initiatives and Time

These are just a few of the potentially dizzying number of questions that may be in front of us. In the thick of a crisis of this magnitude it’s hard to step back and ponder the macro-level longer term implications for ourselves and our business, however this is exactly what our business will be relying on product management to do. After all, what other role in the company has this remit? 

The role of the product manager is to focus the team even, and especially, in time of crisis. The ultimate goal is to emerge from this disruptive period stronger than before. Case in point, according to investment banking firm, Suntrust Research, the 14% of companies that experienced growth during and since the great recession (2008), did three things well during the crisis: 

  1. Acted early
  2. Took a long-term perspective
  3. Focused on growth, not just cost cutting

This brings us to the question of how best we should spend our time NOW across the range of urgent and important, while serving our employees, our customers, and community, and providing effective leadership to our cross-functional teams and peers to emerge a stronger business overall. Practicing leadership during a crisis, and this unique COVID-19 pandemic crisis, reveals a lot about our ability to thrive in our roles. 

Let’s leverage the well-known Eisenhower Matrix to provide a framework for how we might spend time to be the best rudder for the business during this time.

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1: Important and Urgent – Manage the Crisis and Pressing Problems

  • Lead: Though your entire team may be remote, and perhaps many were remote even before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, take the time to check in on them. If you are a product manager, you might consider that to be the role of their immediate boss, however and regardless, they will appreciate the collegiality and know they can depend on you too to provide leadership in tough times. Bring them together online for that critical social connection. Help the teams see the options and make decisions when they may be feeling powerless.
  • Connect with customers and understand how they are adapting: This will inevitably provide insight to new emerging, and potentially long lasting, use cases. Many business practices, such as remote work and the online medical visits of telehealth, were slow to win widespread adoption because of behavioral inertia. But the outbreak — and its indefinite period of upended life — could speed adoption of such unfamiliar ways of doing business.
  • Partner with your customer success team: To continuously feed you information about what they are seeing on the front lines with their customers. 
  • Consider contributing your team’s solutions and capabilities to help mitigate the current crisis: Many companies have experience with putting communities first in an emergency. Examples include Loom, a video recording and sharing service, has made Loom Pro free for teachers and students at K-12 schools, universities, and educational institutions. Meero, a file transfer service, is offering free large-file transfers to ease remote working. In 2018 Budweiser shifted production to make half a million cans of water for hurricane victims and Unilever provided 750,000 bars of soap during an Ebola outbreak. People tend to remember these heartfelt acts over the long term and come to associate your brand with empathy and heart.

 2: Important and Non-Urgent – Focus on Strategies and Opportunities

  • Keep a finger on the pulse of the economic indicators for your business category. Leverage TSIA’s real-time interactive Rapid Research Response Polls for industry financial trends.
  • Keep a finger on the pulse of the Product Management Impact to understand trends on product release schedules, offer portfolio changes, customer engagement, and strategic planning. Early indications are that previously scheduled product releases are experiencing delays and product management spending more time with customers. Don’t get caught flat footed.

Check Product Management COVID-19 Impact Trends

  • New opportunities. Gain key customer insights on how your solutions are actually being leveraged and where the challenges lie. “People will change their habits, and some of these habits will stick,” according to Susan Athey, an economics of technology professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “There’s a lot of things where people are just slowly shifting, and this [coronavirus pandemic] will accelerate that.” A perfect example of that is video conferencing company Zoom Video Communications, whose value proposition is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the massive shift for the remote communications need. Zoom Stock price reflected in the figure below
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  • Expansion with lower competition. As fallout to this crisis, consider that you may lose competitors or see dramatic strategic shifts. Be ready to gain from a changing business landscape. Perform SWOT analysis and consider sales strategy, marketing opportunities, and pricing adjustments are all on the table for near term and longer-term consideration.
  • Acquisitions. Not every business will be properly capitalized or diversified to ride out the recession. You might be able to buy a competitor, complementary technology, or critical skills for an attractive price and terms.
  • Update your value proposition. TSIA expects to see the demand for value and outcome-based consumption offers and related opex spending to accelerate as businesses will look to shift more of the risk to their suppliers. Given that recurring service-based revenue is growing eight times faster than traditional technology product revenue, companies are placing a lot of bets there. In 2019, TSIA found 79% of companies expect to make significant changes to their offers in pursuit of superior growth performance. We see significant tailwinds to the XaaS transformation in the quarters and years ahead as buyers look to offload risk and optimize cash flows. This week (March 30), TSIA members that service the airline and cruise line industries have heard from their customers requesting to switch from CapEx to OpExpurchasing models as they struggle with cash flow.
  • Rebalance the Portfolio: Review offers that were struggling in the marketplace before the crisis. Identify which of these offers can be wound down so that resources can be reallocated to offers that are expected to grow post-crisis. Redirect spending to newly identified market opportunities and innovations.
  • Prioritize post-crisis capabilities: Based on the output of the Strategy Review and Refresh activities, reallocate resources to build out strategic capabilities that will serve the company well post-crisis.

3 and 4: Non-Important – Limit the Trivial and Wasteful

While generally to be avoided at all costs, it’s important to acknowledge this is an unprecedented time. Some balance and slack are also called for intermittently. Breath. The future will undoubtedly be brighter!

TSIA is Here for You

We understand that our member companies, the technology industry, and the world at large have been impacted by COVID-19. Now, more than ever, we need to work together to get through these challenging times. TSIA is committed to providing visibility as quickly as possible into the changing industry trends and practices that come as a result of COVID-19. Visit our Rapid Research Response Initiative resource page for more information.

If you have any questions related to how COVID-19 is impacting your organization, we’re here to help.

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Laura Fay

About Author Laura Fay

Laura Fay is the vice president and managing director of products and offers research and advisory for TSIA. She also serves as TSIA’s vice president of XaaS product management research. Laura is a technology industry veteran with over 30 years' experience driving business growth in the enterprise technology industry via leadership roles in product management, general management, product development, and customer success.