Product Managers Need To Learn How To Pivot

The ability to pivot is what just might save your product
The ability to pivot is what just might save your product
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As a part of your product development definition, one of the things that every product manager eventually does is to create a business plan for their product. In this plan we lay out a strategy: what customers we want to go after, what problems we want to solve, and what product we want to offer to them. However, what do we need to do if we’re wrong? What do you need to do if you created the wrong business plan?

The Problem

So what can go wrong with the business plan that you create for your product? It turns out that a lot of different things can go wrong. First off, you don’t control your market and so a major disruption can occur. Perhaps a new government regulation gets put in place, a new diet fad shows up that tells everyone not to eat your product, or the problem that you were targeting with your product is no longer seen as a problem that has to be solved. No matter what the cause, the effect on your product is going to be the same.

There is also a positive side to this type of change. You may be executing your business plan when all of a sudden a better opportunity may present itself. Once again the effect of not pursuing this new opportunity is going to have an effect on your product – lost revenue. If you want to add this type of problem solving to your product manager resume, then you are going to have to find a solution to this problem.

The Solution: Learn To Pivot

If the product business plan that you are pursuing all of a sudden turns out to not be the one that you should be executing, then the solution is for you and your product team to pivot. “Pivot” is a business term that was first coined by Eric Ries in his book “The Lean Startup”. Eric defines a pivot as being ““structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth.”

Great. So your current product business plan isn’t working and you’ve decided that it’s time to execute a pivot. Just exactly how do you go about doing this? It turns out that there are 3 steps that you are going to need to take in order to make your pivot be successful:

  • Rally The Troops: You always need to keep in mind that any pivot involves change. Fundamentally, your product team is not going to like change. You need to take the time and make the effort to get them all onboard early on in the process. This means explaining to them why the change is necessary, what the change involves, and why their lives are going to be better because of the change.
  • Focus, Focus, Focus: One of the biggest challenges that any product manager who is attempting to perform a pivot has is keeping his or her product team focused on the new business plan. If you allow portions of the old business plan to continue to exist and drive some team member’s actions, then you are going to lose focus and everything is going to end up taking much longer than it should.
  • Keep The Money Coming: For any product to be successful, it needs to always be bringing in money for the company. This means that if you decide to execute a pivot, you need to make sure that even as you are rolling out this new business plan, your product still has to be able to bring in cash for your company. Fail to do this and the company may decide to terminate your product when you are only half-way done with your pivot.

What All Of This Means For You

Even the smartest product manager can create a business plan that turns out to be the wrong plan. Things change and what used to be correct when the plan was made may no longer be correct. When this happens you need to execute a pivot – a skill that should really be a part of every product manager job description.

When pivoting your product’s business plan there are several things that you need to keep in mind. The first is that you need to take the time to get your entire product team behind the new business plan. Next, you need to make sure that your team gets focused on the new business plan and finally you must ensure that the money keeps coming in even as you perform your pivot.

Realizing that you don’t always have to get a business plan correct the first time can take an enormous weight off the shoulders of any product manager. However, the true power of the pivot comes from knowing how to perform one correctly. Study these three tips and you’ll be ready the next time you find yourself having to come up with a brand new business plan for your product.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What criteria do you think would tell you that you needed to execute a pivot for your product?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’ve got to be honest with you here: there have not been too many times during my product manager career that I’ve been able to step away from the product development definition process and have been presented with the opportunity to hire someone to join my product management team. However, the few times that this has happened, whom I chose turned out to be a really, really important decision when it came to the eventual success of my product. Would you know how to hire the right person to join your product team if you were asked to do so?