Event Recap: Navigating Products Through Change

By Salvatore Ciolfi May 22, 2020

Scrapping the Roadmap: Navigating Products Through Change, the latest in BrainStation’s Thought Leadership Series, took place yesterday and the panel discussion again attracted thousands of professionals around the world. 

Ian Bester, BrainStation’s Vice-President and GM was joined by the following global product leaders: 

  • Michael Ayoola, Senior Product Manager at The New York Times
  • Maria Potoroczyn, Head of Citi Bot, Global Consumer Bank at Citi
  • Daryl Porter, Vice President, eCommerce Logistics and Operations at Walmart 

Here are some of the key takeaways from the panel discussion. 

Brands Have to Be Able to Change Mindset

Over the last few months, brands across industries have had to adjust product roadmaps, and they’ve often had to do that at light speed. Maria Potoroczyn, from Citi, explained how COVID-19 forced the company to completely redefine its product roadmap. 

“It’s May 21st and we’re basically done with what we initially had on our roadmap for 2020. So, we’ve had to define the path forward from scratch,” she said.

Daryl Porter, from Walmart, described how the company quickly shifted focus to boost its delivery service.

“We rallied the entire organization around building capacity very fast – adding pickers, ramping up delivery infrastructure – there was a lot of operational focus there, and on the digital side we had to make sure we could enable that. We gathered Product Managers and Engineers and brought them all together in a “tiger team” to allow for decisions to be made quickly,” Porter said.

Prioritization is Key

Given the pace of change, prioritization of initiatives has been fundamental to organizations across industries. Michael Ayoola, from The New York Times, explained how the media organization has delayed more experimental initiatives (involving AI and machine learning) to focus on projects that would provide more immediate value. 

“Advertising has taken a hit, so growth and engagement have been the focus,” he said, explaining that The Times has allowed free access to content related to COVID-19, and provided removed paywalls for high school. 

The panel agreed on the need for planning flexibility, but Porter added that Walmart has been careful to maintain a long-term lens. 

“We tried not to build functionality that would have no place in a post-COVID world,” he said.  

Data is King (But Trust Your Instincts)

The panel agreed that key metrics are shifting, which has increased the importance of remote user testing.

“Drivers of satisfaction have dramatically changed. What was important before isn’t necessarily important now,” Porter said, adding that while data remains essential, not having all the information is okay too. 

“A lot of our decisions are based on 70 percent data and 30 percent instinct – and that’s okay, Usually we’d be a lot higher on the data side, but by being a little less risk-averse, we were able to do it.”

Potoroczyn explained that despite occasional gaps in data, the last few months have reminded organizations how products and product roadmaps should be managed. 

“It’s been such a tangible example and reaffirmation of some of the great principles of product management: stay close to the customer and in sync with their needs, understand your technical limitations, and make sure you understand the tradeoffs of all the other things you choose not to do,” she said.  

You can watch the Scrapping the Roadmap: Navigating Products Through Change panel discussion here: