Best Practices

ProductCraft’s Must-Read Articles of 2020

Well, it certainly has been a year, product people. We all started out starry-eyed with big plans for our products and organizations in 2020. Instead, we found ourselves steering our orgs from our home offices (and kitchen counters and living room couches). Some of us had to make major decisions about the direction and future of our products, with very little time to do so.

And that was all before the first blossoms of spring arrived.

With physical distancing a necessity, digital transformation became even more crucial as nearly every aspect of our lives is conducted over the Internet. But through it all, PMs have shown grit and perseverance, and, recognizing that digital products have become the primary way many of us experience the world right now, set to work making their products even better for those who rely on them.

To celebrate PMs everywhere and help get you ready for the year ahead, here are ten of our must-read articles that highlight these trends from the past year:

1. Pivoting Product Strategy in Response to COVID-19

What do you do when the business model of the entire industry that uses your product is forced to change, immediately? You change with it. That’s exactly what WebPT’s product team did when physical therapy offices around the world had to shut their doors and begin providing health care in a touchless format.

Scott Hebert, WebPT’s director of product management, wrote about how his team put a low-priority telehealth offering on red alert and compressed their typical test-and-release timeline down from a few months to just a few weeks.

2. Remote Work and Product Management

Our products weren’t the only things that had to adapt to drastically changing circumstances this year: We all did, too.

Google’s Manosai Eerabathini had been working semi-remotely prior to the COVID-induced shift, with his team located in New York City while he worked from Boston, and he picked up a few lessons that will be helpful to any of us now. Read about them here.

3. Planning Ahead: How Far Should the Road(map) Go?

Considering that most of your plans from earlier this year probably went out the window, roadmap planning can be stressful. So, how far ahead should you be looking when preparing your product’s roadmap?

It depends on a few factors, wrote Marty Balkema, co-founder of Augusto Digital: Your organization’s culture, the product’s complexity, and the maturity of your release management. Basing your planning around those three criteria and a mix of flexibility, alignment to customer and stakeholder needs, and clarity on timelines will give you the ability to adapt to changing value propositions while keeping an eye on the bigger picture and securing buy-in from leadership.

4. How to Reduce Stress as a Product Manager

All of the above makes it clear that COVID-19 has put an entirely new level of stress on product managers this year. But, as it turns out, that’s not really news: PMs already considered their jobs to be among the most stressful, according to multiple reports gauging their job satisfaction before the pandemic.

Here are a few ways to reboot your product management operating system and send some of that stress straight to the trash bin from Groove founder and CEO Ryan Seamons.

5. When the Only Door to Your Business Is a Digital One

While digital-first companies whose products don’t include a physical component were able to adapt quickly to the changes brought on by the pandemic, others that depended on in-person activities—like fitness and yoga studios, university classes, and real estate showings—had a much harder time. Suddenly, the only door to their product was a virtual sign-in, video call, or tap of a screen.

Many of these companies have made impressive pivots under tough circumstances, and they stand as prime examples of what’s possible in the “new normal,” wrote Ryan Hatch, a UX content strategist at Stream. He considers the crisis a “watershed moment that will likely leave behind those unwilling or unable to double and triple down on the discipline of digital transformation.”

6. The Psychology of Onboarding

Speaking of digital transformation, we’re all finding ourselves welcoming a lot more new users to our products. And whether they love the experience, stick around, and become long-term users or head for the door after a frustrating experience can depend on the quality of your onboarding experience.

Kavir Kaycee had a few tips on how to employ a little bit of psychology to ensure the former of those outcomes.

7. Team Collaboration in a Product-Led Organization

Delivering a successful product depends heavily on how well-aligned and collaborative all parts of your organization are. Product-led organizations have an advantage here: Your product is a source of truth, offering your teams a common source of data, a shared language, and cross-functional measures of success. Placing it at the center of everything you do promotes a much deeper level of collaboration, removing silos and revealing unexpected benefits for both your company and your customers.

Pendo’s CEO and Co-Founder, Todd Olson, wrote about the ways becoming product led can benefit a variety of different teams here.

If you want to learn even more about becoming a product-led organization, Todd released a book on the topic this year. Pick up a copy here.

8. How to Build a Freemium Product That Actually Works

The idea behind freemium is easy to understand: Offer up a version of your product for free, get a bunch of customers hooked on it, then offer them an even more powerful, premium version to convert them into paying customers. But it’s harder to implement than immediately meets the eye. You’ve got to strike the right balance between giving them enough functionality to find value in the product and giving away so much that there’s no incentive to convert.

In this article, Duru Kahyaoglu broke down the best approaches to building a good freemium product and how to measure whether it’s working as intended.

9. Is It Time to Kill This Feature?

We all have the best of intentions every time we set out to build a new feature. We just want to help our users accomplish the tasks they’re using our products for in the most efficient way possible. But while some features take off like rockets, others crash and burn. The trick for every PM is to recognize when that’s the case and remove the feature.

Josh Trauberman, director of product at inMotionNow, offered a framework for assessing your features, reflecting on why some of them have failed, and deciding what to do about it, plus some recommendations on the best tools for getting the job done.

10. The Latest and Greatest in PM Humor

Finally, there’s got to be some respite to all the doom and gloom that has defined 2020, so here’s some of our favorite product management humor from this year.