Turning COVID Unknowns into an Ongoing Product Strategy

Kelly Gebo

Lots of things have changed in a few short months. Some experiences have gotten better and more convenient, while some have gotten harder, making us miss “how it used to be”. One thing that hasn’t changed however are our foundational needs. We still need to connect with people, do business, and take care of ourselves and our families. However, the tools we use to fulfill those needs are starting to look a little different. Now more than ever we are turning to technology to fulfill our needs, and an experience that isn’t up to par will feel even more frustrating.

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a lot of unknowns, and has impacted companies big and small. All of this change can feel unnerving, not knowing what will happen next or how it will impact your business. There is a lot of power in taking a moment to ask questions and challenge assumptions. We feel there is a way to navigate these knowns in an effective manner while also introducing a process for continuous improvement and innovation.

At thoughtbot, we are all about building products people love using, and helping our clients figure out what will make their business and product successful for their target customers. Having your strategy nailed down is really important when you are building a net new product, for example a founder in the “I’ve got an idea stage”, or a company looking to take their physical presence into a digital presence. In principle nailing a user first strategy is also very effective for a company looking to do a gut check on their existing business and product strategy in an effort to evolve to a more profitable place on the other side of this pandemic.

Start With The Customer

Understanding who the target customer is lays the foundation for ongoing strategic planning and the future product roadmap. Start by outlining who your target customers are; their attributes, the unmet need served, how they interact with you, and why they would choose to do business with you instead of competitors. Now review that understanding through the eyes of the pandemic. Challenge if this understanding has potentially changed, or if you are making any assumptions. Explore if there are potential new opportunities to serve unexplored needs or if there are new pain points to keep in mind given a customer’s life and routine has changed a great deal.

Organizing your thoughts will lay the groundwork in identifying assumptions and/or possible opportunities. Using this hit list, we recommend connecting with actual users. These could be past users, current users or potential users but talk to them one-on-one. Design Research is the backbone of a sound product and business strategy and goes a long way in minimizing risk. Start with real user interviews to give you confidence that you are building the right thing the first time. Especially during the pandemic, we want to be smart with our investments, so making sure a potential pivot is worth the cost, is a crucial step.

With your recordings and notes, the next step is to synthesize. Look for recurring themes in the form of new insights and/or pain points. We like to use Product Design Sprints to dig into these themes because it includes some great exercises for idea generation, prioritization, and further validation. The most helpful advice we can share is to not get hung up on making it perfect. Think through a basic iteration that can meet the new need or resolve the new pain point and test it with users to see if you’ve hit the mark. This can be done through A/B testing or a quick prototype. With another round of focused feedback, you’ll be able to refine accordingly and nail down your final implementation.

Conducting this gut check on your business and product / feature idea should not take months. In supporting clients we’ve made meaningful progress in a handful of days. Learning how to move quickly in this cycle will be a great habit to support your strategy moving forward. Now when a new competitor emerges or a change in the market impacts your business, you’ll be ready to figure out what pivot makes sense for you so you can keep evolving.

We are here to help with any of these activities and we find so much joy in sharing what we’ve learned. We look forward to hearing from you and celebrating your successful pivot!