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Product in a Crisis?

Rosie O'Donoghue

25 June 2020

by Rosie O'Donoghue

( Words)

Digital products are at the forefront of our world right now, providing the crucial connectivity to keep the world turning, at home and at work. So how have my Product network found leading, building and managing during lockdown?

I was delighted to host a virtual event for the leadership community to share learnings and discuss challenges. A massive thank you to my panel Rosemary King – Product Management Leader, Founder – The Product Co-operative, Polly Howden – Product Director – Role Share, Founding Member – London Tech Ladies, Marc Abraham – Head of Product – Engagement at ASOS.com and Adriana Landaverde – Chief Product Officer – Clim8 Invest.

See below for the key takeaways.


Responding to Uncertainty
“Some of the bets which we were taking based on a long-term, gradual change of the landscape have just changed overnight.”

There are a number of ways a business can respond to a change of this magnitude, and one of the hardest things as a leader is being decisive when there are so many major factors out of your control. Do you play it safe to keep your head above water? Return to old, tried-and-tested behaviours which feel comfortable in a time of unfamiliarity? Or accept that the rulebook has been thrown out, and push forward an agenda of innovation? Many leaders are balancing deciding on what degree to pivot products in response to current needs, or even launch new ones.

What emerged from the discussion is that is that, for many businesses, Covid-19 has inspired a renewed, intense focus on Product. With the sales-pipeline unstable, many companies are taking the time to focus on developing their products in line with customer needs. This is even more pronounced in companies that offer both in-person and digital services, many of whom have responded by focusing on the development of the digital side. For Product teams, this has the potential to be exciting, but also puts a high pressure on Product to be a “magic wand” in a crisis.


From Sales-led to Product-led
“The CEO has taken this opportunity to put Product front and centre.”

For some leaders, the lack of sales has given them the opportunity to get back to best practice by infusing data and research back into the business, listening to their customers and educating the rest of the organisation on a Product-first mindset. This is of course marred by difficulties: not being able to physically sit down with customers to understand their needs has been a real challenge.

In B2Bs, some leaders are looking at building a healthy relationship between Product and Sales to facilitate a consultative-type selling approach. Whilst many potential clients have a large appetite for digital products right now, coupled with this high engagement is a risk-averse attitude to actually buying. This stems from fears around investing substantial sums in new technologies and businesses they haven’t worked with before at a time when revenue is, for many companies, uncertain. Product leaders are therefore looking at how they can adjust their propositions to appeal to and address these conflicting feelings.


Supporting teams through a crisis
“At virtually no other time have employee needs been so different. Some people are at home in this intense environment with their kids getting way too many hugs a day. Other people haven’t had a hug for weeks.”

Of course, one of the key challenges faced by any leader in this period is how to support your team. With the future so uncertain, it can be hard to answer questions and provide adequate reassurance, particularly when your only avenue is a Zoom call.

For many, the key question is when – and whether - we will return to the workplace. It’s key to involve your workforce in these decisions, whether via an anonymous survey or by reaching out directly. At this point, it will be no secret to any team that every individual’s needs are different – with only 25% of students having returned to school at the time of writing despite government mandate, child-care will undoubtedly remain a challenge for many.

Moreover, whilst many are raring to return to the office, employees have got use to the flexibility of working from home and it’s unlikely that they’ll want to snap straight back to normal. Indeed, a quick mid-event poll of our attendees showed that nearly 100% will expect more flexibility from their own jobs on returning to the office.

Whilst it’s tempting to always put on a brave face, it was suggested that one of the best moves a leader can make is to model vulnerability. Everyone has collectively been through a difficult time, and opening up about this is a method for facilitating connection with employees. With employee mental health high up on the agenda, panellists also cited several tools to help monitor employee wellbeing, including OfficeVibe which allows you to collect, measure and review employee feedback, and Bolt which facilitates the reporting of employee concerns.


Future of product?
“You can’t just have Product sitting in the corner doing its thing - it needs to be infused throughout the organisation.”

What’s more, with ways of working changing at such pace and scale, the Product mindset has special application to teams themselves. Thinking about the team as a product, and allowing experimentation as to the way we work and not just what we build, will allow companies to give both their employees and their customers the brilliant experiences they deserve.



I’m Rosie, I head up La Fosse’s Digital Design and Product contracts team. If you have any thoughts on this article, or are interested in attending the next event, please don’t hesitate to reach out on rosie.o'donoghue@lafosse.com or call on 02079321666.