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Product Management in the Time of COVID-19

Interest in product management has never been higher. Or has it?


In case you haven’t noticed, s**t has hit the fan recently. Tens of thousands of people are dying from a terrible virus, millions of jobs have been lost, entire economies have shut down, and social distancing is causing a lot of anxiety and depression in even the most upbeat of us.

While I have absolutely no idea what the future is going to like for certain, we’re starting to get glimpses of how this may affect us as PMs and humans over the next few months to years.

Many of us have had friends laid off. We haven’t seen our favorite therapist (i.e our local barkeep) in a month.

I’m sure someone you know is having a hard time making rent this month.

Plus our aging parents and grandparents have all of us worried about what would happen if they were positive for the virus.

It sucks.

But it’s likely you still have your job right now. And you’re learning how to PM from home.

(btw, whoever said PM’ing is best done in an office? remote FTW!)

Rational Optimism

As an optimist, I feel that PMs can do really high-impact work right now by guiding their companies towards decisions that will keep their company afloat, realign their products to meet changing demands, and serve as a rock for the rest of their teams.

There’s so much we can contribute right now. SO much.

We are rational optimists.

We find the silver lining where we can but plan for roadblocks and obstacles along the way. After all, very few things ever go according to plan 100% the time. It just comes with the territory.

However, that rational part is what I want to talk to you about today though. I’m going to add a little bit of tough love if I may.

Trends in Product Management Before COVID-19

If you were to go back to January or February of this year and I asked you what you thought about product management as an industry right now, you’d probably say it was on the up and up.

Interest has never been higher!

There are PM certification programs and boot camps popping up what feels like every month. That’s gotta be a good sign, right?!

But the peak interest in product management is not actually right now. It was in March 2004.

Wait, what?

And guess where 2 of the 3 lowest points are?

In Dec 2008 and 2009.

If I were a betting woman, I’d say that interest is about to curve downward again.

I really don’t want to be doom and gloom here. I really, really want to be optimistic and say that this curve is just going to keep climbing.

Ripple Effects

Ripple effects are real though. Just because you’re not in the service, travel or event industries doesn’t mean that this won’t have an effect on you.

As the ripples move along, even those in the more predictable B2B SaaS companies may start to feel the pressure.

Like I said, I do want to look on the bright side of things and show the world how product management can step up during this COVID-19 outbreak.

At the same time, I also want to be rational and prepare for obstacles we may face in the coming months and years.

Take Time to Prepare

While we continue to be cool and collected in moments of sheer chaos and taking care of our team, there are some things we should be doing as product managers during COVID-19. I’d recommend you…

  • Rethink your current priorities in terms of the current situation. What is really most important right now?
  • Come up with contingency plans.
  • Plan for being effective with fewer resources.
  • Quantify your contributions.
  • Keep your resume updated.
  • Start stashing more of that paycheck away for a rainy day.

We’re going to get through this and come out stronger on the other side. In the meantime, be prepared.

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