Prioritizing product roadmaps in a pandemic: what’s now, next, later?

We’ve been thinking about the product managers who are steering pre-commercial products into this head wind. There is a ‘survival’ mode to get through: reacting to external market shifts and re-configuring for internal collaboration. But by now, you’re likely re-evaluating the product roadmap and/or the product portfolio.

Are you confident about which pre-commercial offerings should hit “pause” and which should be moved forward? And how long can you afford to “pause” before competitors get ahead?

You’ve already invested in this opportunity because it’s solving a problem for your business and customers, and expectations have been established for key milestones, including how the various products in your portfolio will perform. Then everything changed, and product teams in every industry and across the globe are working with leadership teams to make prioritization decisions in a time of crisis.

The Opportunity: Seize the pause

Though the jarring economic shock leading to revisiting decisions that were made pre-COVID is brutal, as an innovator, you know how to take advantage of every opportunity.

For products: You might have a pause on the technical build, but you can still use this time to optimize your new product through scrappy prototyping and research.

For portfolios: As you re-examine, you might find an opportunity within your innovation portfolio or product backlog well-primed to serve the near-term new reality. If you wait for the storm to subside to take action, you risk being too late to the market. Can you afford to make a small investment now in order to stay ahead?

Criteria for Deciding What to Move Forward:

  1. Likely adds value to customers post-covid and beyond
  2. We can isolate 3-4 make-or-break assumptions to validate first
  3. It’s appropriate to conduct in-market tests with real users now 
  4. Leverages our existing assets
  5. Can make a case for ‘essential to organizational strategy’ (therefore has a small budget)
  6. We have, or can build, a team to build after establishing product-market fit
  7. The target market/industry will likely maintain or grow post-covid


Optimize your products in order to stay ahead when the fog lifts

In this new normal, optimize what to build by testing in the market, with real users, without development. Your goal: bring some known to this unknown. You can do this with:

  • A team of 3
  • With a defined timeframe (weeks, not months)
  • And 3-4 unknowns you’d like to shed light on with confirming or disconfirming data. Isolating your key assumptions early in pre-development, saves you time (and money) so you have fewer to answer as you build.

The output is more clarity and confidence on product market fit and new requirements on what to build (with your precious development resources) that might serve the near-term challenge of emerging from the fog with a resemblance of a next step for rebuilding and growth.

You might wonder about what user needs and behaviors are temporary versus permanently affected. Fear not. With qualitative research, you can get ahead with that uncertainty by talking to your users! Their pre-crisis and present behaviors can inform your hypothesis about the future. Plus, you can continue to learn through their journey over time by checking in weeks and months in the future, then recalibrate your roadmap as needed.

Use the below framework, to identify your most critical assumptions to test. 

Final Thought

As you pause and re-strategize your pre-product portfolio, know that there is a quick-win option beyond ‘freeze’ and ‘kill’. If your concept has potential for the near-term reality, invest in figuring out ‘what to build’, so your product team can nail ‘how to build’ when the time comes.

Need support with prioritizing and executing your plan? We’d love to discuss, so get in touch.


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