For those reading tea leaves, all signs point to a recession within the next year. While it’s not good news, a recession isn’t a novel situation. There have been as many as 47 recessions in the United States. And in my career, I have witnessed and been professionally involved in five:
● The Iran/Energy Crisis Recession (July 1981 - November 1982)
● The Gulf War Recession (July 1990 - March 1991)
● The 9/11 Recession (March 2001 - November 2001)
● The Great Recession (December 2007- June 2009)
● The Pandemic Recession (March-April 2020)
Having spent 40 years in professional settings—and most of them as a product manager—it’s fair to say that I have some insight. It's not everything you need to think about or do. Just some sound advice that I hope will serve you well in difficult times from someone who has been in your shoes.
Here are my five product manager best practices to help survive a recession.
1. Make customer-based innovation your top priority
It's a downturn. You need to preserve cash—we’re no longer in growth mode. It’s not about competitive differentiation to win new deals or customer retention to keep subscriptions and renewals coming in. Prioritize your roadmap for customer-based innovation. Not competitors. Not new customers (prospects). You need to deepen your relationships with current customers and maintain them. That's what will keep the lights on. Anything that makes you a continued ‘aspirin’ versus a ‘vitamin’ in the features roadmap goes to the top of this week’s sprint. Look at the roadmap. Focus on the now. Identify what keeps customer renewing.
2. Scrutinize your product management tools
OK, you are not buying anything. Nothing new. Period. However, can you choose a better time to ‘take a peek’? No. This is it. Now is the time to plan and prepare. Look at all the product management tools; there are quite a few. What will allow you to make a product that will give you the edge when you are again in growth mode? Get ready and figure that out now while you have the time.
Look for a purpose-built tool with a dedicated space to monitor product health, plan the project roadmap, keep stakeholders informed, and make quick, data-based decisions and tradeoffs.
Acclaim Products is the complete workspace for you.
3. Identify potential M&As
Now is the time to identify those that haven’t managed as well as you have and share your unique insight with decision-makers. That may sound cruel, but in many ways, it's not. You are giving yourself a competitive edge and a chance for former competitors or complementary products to survive with their customers.
A competitive company or a company with complementary products may not survive a downturn. Such companies may offer you a significant tranche of new customers. This is your opportunity to build your offering and/or customer base at a lower cost. Use your best buy vs. build analysis. And go after those opportunities.
4. Make sure you’re remote-ready
If your product management tools, processes and personnel need to be more effective in a virtual setting, start planning to invest in them now. The remote landscape isn’t as satisfying as real, live and in-person communications, but there are benefits. As we’ve seen since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the expanse of talent in a virtual setting is a huge upside. With the right product management tools and productivity software, you can work with people who can improve your product and market advantage—no matter where they are or how you interact with them.
5. Re-evaluate employee needs
Even companies with a firm footing in an economic crisis may use this to release people. It’s a cruel reality, but in times of recession, it makes sense to re-evaluate the team and their needs, and then determine what combination best positions your department to succeed during a downturn. Keep these three things top of mind:
● Think customers
● Think scenario planning
● Think of the opportunities
While this is the most challenging thing a product manager will do, maintaining the right team and addressing their needs is necessary to keep innovation profitably moving forward.
A significant percentage of your career will be spent navigating challenging times. At the highest level, these product manager best practices are what your company needs from you moving forward. It's what every product manager needs to be thinking near term.
It's about surviving to fight the fight another day. Hold on. Hunker down. Ride it out. Survive to fight another day. And prepare for that battle now. You’ve got this!
Looking for product management tools that will help keep new product development on track, no matter the economic environment? Learn how Acclaim Products helps product people track product health, prioritize trade-offs, inform stakeholders, and make decisions without having to spend hours cobbling information together.