COVID-19 has disrupted the lives and work of everyone in the world. New businesses were born. Sadly, some businesses failed. We were all forced to change in some way.
Product development is no exception. Social distancing, quarantining, and lockdowns have forced our industry to adapt like everyone else. Some of those changes and adaptations will fade as the pandemic abates. Others will stick around indefinitely - perhaps forever.
In this article, we’d like to cover some of the ways COVID-19 has impacted product development. Keep these in mind if you’re in the middle of development or currently having a product developed.
Remote Work Conditions
Like many other industries, product development teams are working from home. We have always worked remotely to some degree, but that amount has soared. Fortunately, this style of work tends to suit product development, but it does come with some potential challenges.
First, the pandemic prevents anyone from the product development team from visiting customer sites. If you prefer to hire outsourced developers but have them work in your office, this probably isn't an option right now. It may be possible to visit your developers once (or have them visit you), but ongoing in-person work isn’t feasible.
Second, most meetings are remote. Again, this isn’t a big issue for product development unless you want lots of in-person meetings (which would be unusual). It makes sense to meet remotely over Zoom or Skype in most cases, but now that’s mandatory.
Third, and most importantly, product development is a team activity. It’s not a job we do in isolation. Product teams interact with one another daily, working through ideas and collaborating on methods. Switching to fully remote work means learning to adopt new workflows.
As more companies shift their teams to remote work, managing critical information becomes more complex. Product teams often work with sensitive client information, which might even include regulated information if the clients work in healthcare or finance.
Sharing sensitive information across unprotected networks to unprotected devices can create countless cybersecurity threats. This lack of control over instructure increases the likelihood of compromised data, which can have a number of effects on a product development team:
Clients losing faith in the organization/team
Client information exposed to malicious parties and/or competitors
Diminished reputation among clients and potential clients
Canceled or paused projects
Loss of revenue
If you’re working with a product team that’s gone remote during the pandemic, ask them how they are taking cybersecurity seriously. They should be able to tell you the steps they take to keep your data safe.
Digital Customer Interactions
According to McKinsey & Company, the pandemic has accelerated the digitization of customer interactions by several years. Companies all over the world are striving to turn in-person interactions into digital, low-contact or no-contact interactions.
Consider your local grocery store, for example. Like many stores, they probably offer curbside pickup that limits human contact. Instead of physically entering the store to pick your order and pay, that part of the interaction now takes place digitally.
Countless organizations have taken similar steps. For many, the results have been positive - fewer customizations, simpler payment and checkout processes, and simpler operations that require less finished customer space (storefronts, displays, etc.). Many will continue pushing digital interactions even after the pandemic.
Changing Competitive Landscape
The pandemic's financial impact on some organizations could have a profound effect on the competitive landscape. Some competitors may disappear from your radar overnight. Other companies may suddenly become competitors due to clever or opportunistic business models or products.
For example, food delivery startup Olo had a tremendous year and intends to file for IPO soon. 2020 was a big year for food delivery, so it’s no surprise their model had success. Other industries have seen lots of downsizing and closures.
During this period of change, product managers must improve their competitive intelligence efforts, even for markets with long-standing competitors that always seemed stable. If you’re working with a product team, monitor your competitors closely for signs of financial difficulty or increased investment. Make your product team aware of the competitive changes happening in your industry.
Changing Customer Needs
As customers adapt to the new conditions (whether they are temporary or indefinite), their needs change as well. For instance, a company developing a SaaS for event planners and organizers may choose to put their product on hold for the time being because no one is hosting events right now.
For the time being, product developers must adapt to these needs as well. Some projects are paused or abandoned entirely. Some clients lack the funds to pay for product development because their businesses are impacted by the pandemic.
In fact, many organizations are using the pandemic as an opportunity to consider their own survival. Instead of reaching out for new business or penetrating new vertices, they’re looking for ways to streamline their operations and trim the fat. If they invest in product development at all, they’ll build tools that replace other functions (people and manual processes, mostly).
But it’s not all doom-and-gloom. Some businesses are doing quite well because their offerings match our needs. Food delivery apps, for example, are having their best year ever as consumers turn to contactless takeout options. Product developers should be willing to court clients with these advantageous business models.
Furthermore, we expect clients to place a higher emphasis on agile products that can be adapted quickly based on their needs.
New Product Initiatives
We’ve covered how COVID-19 has changed the way we work, now let’s talk about the kinds of products it will impact.
Remote work may be necessary now, but many companies are realizing they can function just fine without an in-person workforce. Remote working is the way of the future for many organizations, so we’ll undoubtedly see more SaaS products that facilitate remote work. Companies that offer these products are already seeing increased demand.
Like we mentioned above, remote working creates security concerns, so we expect to see more security products released over the coming months and years. These products will be aimed at distributed teams who need to share sensitive information.
Many schools are closed all over the world, which forces students of all ages to use various e-learning products. In the past, most e-learning products were designed for all grade levels, but that isn’t appropriate for long-term distance learning. We expect to see a variety of new products over the next few years targeting specific age groups or types of education.
As virtual work becomes normal, many companies are moving their products to the cloud. They’ll also start adopting cloud-based tools as opposed to their old local or intranet-based systems.
On-demand products are apps that help people procure goods and services in a moment’s need. Uber, for example, is an on-demand app that gives you a ride. DoorDash handles your food delivery on-demand. These applications are popular now, but we expect their popularity to grow, especially in healthcare, finance, and personal services.Image: Magneto
The real long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on product development (or the entire IT industry, for that matter) are yet to be known. It’s safe to say, however, that we’ll feel the economic and culture effects for some time. Be mindful of the impacts we outlined above and ask yourself how you can position your products and your business to survive the pandemic and be ready for future global events.