Scrapping the Roadmap: How to Navigate Products Through Change

By Salvatore Ciolfi May 22, 2020

Scrapping the Roadmap: Navigating Products Through Change, a BrainStation Digital Leadership event, attracted thousands of professionals around the world eager to understand how brands were managing products and product development in a crisis.

You can watch the panel event here:

Here are some tips on how to navigate product development and management through periods of change.  

Be Able (and Willing) 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.

Focus on Prioritization

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)

Over the last few months, key metrics have shifted and they continue to change. This 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.  

Register now for the next BrainStation Digital Leadership Event.