How to Plan During a Product Pivot

In product development, whether in startups or established companies, when we change from our Plan A to a different plan, we are pivoting. A product pivot is when a change in plan causes a change in the actual product that’s being built, whether in terms of feature set, functionality, user experience, or look-and-feel.

In traditional project management, this can be referred to as change management. Most companies and teams will pivot many times in some way, whether from their original plan for how to build a product, who the target customer is, or how they plan on making money off of a product. In fact, the popularity of Agile methods in project management today reflects ongoing trends in constant change in requirements, technologies and customer preferences.

many startup projects have to pivot repeated in order to succeed

For those of us trying to create and maintain a plan, product pivots can potentially create havoc and a sense of loss of control. Maintaining your and your team’s sense of direction and sanity is key during product pivots.

Here are several things you can do to effectively manage during a pivot.

1. Acknowledge That Pivots (and Changes) Happen

Change is essential to creating and building new and interesting products that people will actually use and benefit from.

Good pivots come from validated learning, and validated learning happens when you and your team are able to determine statistical significance in results of your product-related tests or experiments.

For project managers, a pivot might introduce change management strategies. However, with pivots becoming more frequent in companies of all sizes, project managers should move away from a mindset of “controlled change” and towards a mindset of change always happens.

Learn how to acknowledge and get to a certain level of comfort with the idea that change happens, and can actually lead to good results. By doing so, you can start to manage the most important aspect of getting through pivots: you and your team’s reaction to them. Alan Spoon’s article in Inc. magazine offers additional insights into what distinguishes a “great” pivot from disastrous change for change’s sake.

2. Take Inventory

Before charging forward with a new product pivot, you need to take a step back and take inventory. In the context of the development of your product and your project plan, this means understanding what’s been created or built so far.

Taking inventory of your product assets should span everything from:

  1. User persona definitions
  2. User experience designs, wireframes, prototypes, etc.
  3. User Interface designs
  4. Backend infrastructure: Databases, connections between different systems, etc.
  5. Product features and functionality

Start with knowing what you have, so you know what is still relevant and where you can avoid rework or duplication of efforts.

3. Reassess Your Plan

Once you have looked at your inventory and understood what product-related assets you have, it’s time to reassess your original plans.

a. Understand the scope of the pivot. Is the pivot a complete change in functionality? Is it a change in look-and-feel? Is it a change in user experience while maintaining much of the existing functionality?

b. Perform a Keep vs. Shelve analysis. Once you’ve understood the scope of the pivot, determine which of your product assets are still relevant and can be kept as part of the pivot. Are the original user personas that were developed the same? Are the backend systems being accessed still relevant? Does the user experience need to change dramatically to accommodate the new pivot? Answers to these questions should help you determine what to keep vs. shelve. Assets that apply to the product pivot should be kept, while any assets that don’t apply should be shelved (not thrown away!).

pivot in your projectI say shelve vs. get rid of for a very specific reason – you never know when you’ll need those assets again. If your company is in the business of pivoting (demonstrated by at least one product pivot), then you may need these assets somewhere down the road. In addition, you should always keep and archive the results of your team’s work, since it is all valuable documentation of your evolution as a team and ultimately, as a company.

4. Understand the Impact of the Pivot on Your Original Plan

Once you have analyzed what product assets can be kept, you are now in a position to understand the impact of the pivot on your original plan.

Does your entire plan need to be created from scratch? Or can you jump into planning the next phase and keep a good amount of the existing plan in place?

5. Create a New Plan OR Update Your Existing One

Based on understanding the impact of the pivot on your original plan, you now have insight into which project planning activities need to be redone vs. which ones are still relevant. For example, your analysis of the impact of your product pivot may have revealed that you can use most of your previous plan, but that you will need to add some time for development of additional functionality.

Or, your analysis may have revealed that you need to start from scratch, all the way from planning the overall project milestones, to conducting requirements and user story workshops, to planning for user experience and design activities.project managers need to understand when to pivot

At this point you should have enough information to be able to re-plan, or update your existing plan.  

6. Communicate (Profusely)

My personal belief is that the source of failure for most things in life is always a lack of communication, or a failure to set expectations appropriately.

A lack of communication is not restricted to a quantitative measure of communication – i.e. it doesn’t only mean “not frequent enough”, but also has as much to do with the qualitative. Are you communicating in the right ways, to the right audience? Are you communicating clearly, in a way that achieves your goals from the communication?

When it comes to creating a new plan caused by a product pivot, the key to success is communicating the change in plan to all stakeholders and interested parties. People impacted by the product pivot need to understand the implications and any changes to timeline, team structure, and end-deliverable.

At this point, you have a plan for tackling your next product pivot. Remember that even the best plans change sometimes. Use the tools that you have to navigate those changes and to help keep your team focused and motivated. can help you manage change on your next project, through real-time monitoring, collaboration tools and flexibility with task tracking. Start your free trial today.

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