How Product Leaders Are Rewriting Their Roadmaps Due to COVID-19

It’s a very different world today than it was just this spring. The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped society in profound ways, shifting how people interact, work, learn, and shop. And as the virus appears poised for a fall resurgence, many of those changes seem here to stay for a while longer.

Few, if any of us, can say they truly saw this level of disruption coming. For most companies, it has meant that the plans they had carefully laid for their products have probably needed to change to an equally profound extent. 

In the health care industry, there’s a whole new focus on telehealth and other methods of providing care at a distance. Digital learning tools have gone from a nice-to-have to a mission-critical component for most educational institutions as physical schools remain closed or struggle to reopen. The hospitality and entertainment sectors have been particularly rocked, and companies building software for restaurant management, virtual events, and subscription services have adapted to spiking usage and demand for new features with remarkable agility.

Firefly Learning accelerated its existing roadmap

When schools closed, London-based Firefly Learning knew that administrators were about to face a much tougher time measuring student engagement and the impact remote instruction was having on the learning process. 

So, Firefly’s product team decided to move up the launch of its Insights product, which measures how and at what times students, teachers, and parents were engaging with the platform, by eight months. They also opened up access to a closed beta version of the feature for all of Firefly’s customers.

“[During COVID-19], school leaders weren’t able to walk the corridors of the school to get a feel for what was happening,” said Lars Dyrelund, Firefly’s head of product. “They were walking blind, and by shifting our priorities and go-to-market plans, we were able to help them at a time of need.”

Dyrelund and his team also significantly expanded their use of in-app messaging to help new and returning customers—administrators, teachers, students, and parents alike—learn how to use the platform. “Usage of our product has gone up … and in many schools, Firefly is now more broadly adopted and used,” he said. “[This is] of course fantastic, but it also means we have to better cater to users that are new to the system.”

Building on that, Firefly’s team has recently added a new item to their roadmap around consolidating all of those support resources under one banner.

WebPT’s quick prioritization of a back-burner project

While Firefly accelerated its roadmap, the product team at WebPT, a cloud-based business platform for physical, occupational, and speech therapists, had to completely pivot theirs.

Before the pandemic, building telehealth functionality into the product was not a priority for the company, because their customers were rarely reimbursed for providing remote care. Then, just as in the education industry, COVID-19 closed physical doctors’ offices and any care had to be provided virtually. Suddenly, the industry’s entire business model shifted, and that low-priority telehealth feature became a critical need of every one of WebPT’s customers. It swiftly claimed the top spot on their roadmap. 

Scott Hebert, WebPT’s director of product management, and his team were able to recognize the need for the product because they’re in constant communication with their customers. They heard from many that they were trying to accommodate virtual visits by cobbling together a variety of tools and recognized an opportunity to help. Building, testing, and releasing the functionality was all compressed into just a few weeks—a fraction of the time a typical rollout takes—ensuring continuity of care in a fast-moving crisis.

Protecht displays agility amid adversity

One of the earliest indications of how severely COVID-19 would affect society came in the form of the suspension of the 2019-2020 NBA season in March. That was the first domino to fall, and within weeks almost all live sporting events, concerts, and conferences were on hold or canceled altogether. 

As a result, Protecht, an insurance technology platform that offers coverage of live event tickets, found itself dealing with the dual pressures of large numbers of consumers who insured tickets seeking to make claims on them, and a need to pivot their strategy in the absence of live events.

Beau Jeppesen, Protecht’s chief product officer, said the team immediately launched an in-app messaging campaign to help inform consumers about how they could have their tickets reimbursed to take the pressure off the claims team. Then, they shifted their focus to their roadmap. Prior to the pandemic, the team had been working on projects related to health accident insurance for athletes and travel insurance, but both were shelved in favor of building a shipping insurance offering. 

“We knew e-commerce was going to be the piece, at least for the next year or so, that we could start to tag on and build a good amount of market share. There are very few companies like us offering insurance in the checkout of platforms people are buying on,” Jeppesen said. “We’ll start to work on health, accident, travel, once those things start to come back online. But the majority right now is focusing on shipping.”

Recognizing the need to pivot and acting quickly paid off for Protecht: Jeppesen said the conversion rate of their insurance offerings has increased significantly.

A toast to enabling restaurant resilience

The use of health and education technology platforms may have spiked tremendously during the pandemic, but in other industries, the opposite was true. Restaurants have been among the hardest-hit industries. Prior to the pandemic, on-premise sales accounted for about four of every five meals served at eateries in the United States. Social distancing restrictions took that option off the table, forcing restaurants to make up the difference solely through delivery and carry-out service. 

Restaurant management and point-of-sales platform Toast stepped up to the plate, moving quickly to upgrade the platform’s online ordering capabilities, adding features for managing curbside pick-up and to throttle orders so that kitchen staff didn’t become overwhelmed by increased take-out volume.

“In the dine-in world, you can naturally throttle your guests by saying ‘We don’t have any tables available.’ When you all of a sudden open a website to anyone who is willing to pick up food or get delivery, now all of a sudden you could get slammed with 200 orders in five minutes,” Toast VP of customer success Emmanuelle Skala noted in a recent webinar with Pendo.

Now, the Toast team is hard at work building out ways for restaurants to accept payment in a touchless format, Skala said. “We had to pivot to ‘What do restaurants need in a COVID world?’” said Skala. “We believe people want to dine out but want to do so safely.”