Let Some Fires Burn: What Software Product Managers and Product Marketing Can Learn about Triage from the COVID-19 Crisis

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As we reflect on COVID-19, and its evil cousin in 2020, and how it has impacted everyone both professionally and personally, one idea appears more vividly than others—the power of triage. Triage enables individuals to quickly assess a situation to determine what is urgent and important, thus deeming what is essential and nonessential. It’s clear healthcare workers across the country are triaging as they ruthlessly prioritize who gets care, who gets tested, and who should be a part of the workforce, in order to reduce the need of personal protective equipment (PPE) given its shortages. While it’s commendable that many startups and large corporations, even in unrelated industries (Tesla, GM, LVMH, etc.,) are racing to build masks, ventilators, and other PPE, might it be prudent to ask what were product managers (PMs) and product marketing managers (PMMs) doing as they watched this crisis evolve?

 I will leave the medical industry experts to solve the specifics of that particular problem, but there is a lesson here for us at WealthEngine and vendors of B2B software to take note from. PMs and PMMs should pay more attention to their daily grooming habits, establishing a triage protocol across their tribes (to use some SAFe jargon) in case of emergency. Ideally, this should be assessed on a daily basis, but organizations lack the foresight to do so. Why? Because they are busy tending to daily fires. Unfortunately for the medical device manufacturers, this lack of insight and action on early pandemic warnings has caused countries of various sizes and national wealth to be unprepared for the increase in demand for PPE, leaving them frozen and unable to adapt quickly. So, what can future PMs and PMMs learn from this emergency on how to triage empathetically, prioritize ruthlessly, and execute flawlessly?

But first a big salute and thank you to the first responders and health care workers – our real heroes we all are sincerely indebted to.

Triaging with Empathy, Prioritizing Ruthlessly, and Executing Flawlessly 

This pandemic should lead us to rethink how Product Roadmaps are constructed, prioritized, and aligned in light of rapidly changing environments and market needs. A pre-established set of post-crisis processes will allow for companies to remain calm, prepared, and adaptable amidst future crises. 

 I recognize that the scale and pace that this pandemic hit the world was unprecedented, yet I find myself questioning the priorities, inventories, and supply-chain resilience of the medical device manufacturing industries, and by extension, the effectiveness of the on-the-line product managers and technologists in charge of production and capacity planning. It seems as though this crisis has exposed an overwhelming, and rather concerning, lack of a formalized scenario planning structure in these large corporations. I am surprised to see that all apparent planning and envisioning has gone out the window as demand for PPE has skyrocketed and am curious as to how these corporations will adapt from this pandemic. I have no reason to place blame or judgment on these manufacturers’ market-product prowess or even on the healthcare system’s ability to stockpile PPE, but the severity of the problem does lead me to ask one very basic question.

 When do you know that your risk-adjusted assumptions to deliver on a product roadmap are no longer valid and when should triage begin? 

 Triage is all about deeming what is essential and nonessential. It forces companies to reassess what is important to their mission statement and success rate. In 1954, former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” What went on to be coined the “Eisenhower Principle” is a 2×2 matrix that distinguishes between what is important and urgent. Important activities lead to goal achievement, making them more long-term focused, while urgent activities demand immediate attention because they may lead to immediate consequences. It may be difficult to distinguish between what is important and what is urgent at first, but once this clear distinction is made, companies are able to focus on which activities are essential for success. Companies should constantly be assessing what is important and urgent, even during times of prosperity, so that when crisis strikes and a timely response is necessary, there is no time wasted on this. With their priorities already established, companies will not focus on unimportant urgent activities but instead save time for those that are essential. 

3 Actions PMs and PMMs Should Implement in Their Triage Protocol 

1. Consider Data as Fact

 Use data as facts for decision making.  It is one ear to the ground, listening to the changing market conditions, while the other tunes into understanding what is the hardest dollar to get from your customers and what is the most important dollar they could spend right now(and hoping it’s with you). Understanding what the hottest and wisest dollar a customer may spend is crucial for PMs and PMMs, and deciphering this allows for them to focus their time and energy on the activities that would yield the best outcome. In this current crisis, this may be intuitively obvious, but when things come back roaring, the discipline to chase after the hardest dollar will swing to the lowest available dollar, and thus begins the dilution of the product roadmap again. So, using data as facts is an important practice both in times of crisis and prosperity. After all, we are living in the data decade, as Morgan Stanley coined this era of data usage. This means all opinions that color facts or data that does NOT support your position, must be included in the decision making process.  This will help to eliminate conscious and confirmation bias, amongst other traps that we are all prone and succumb to often. 

2. Reenergize Your Team

Conduct an honest and unbiased assessment of the skills of your current team and how those skills support the company’s important and urgent activities. In my experience, I have found that most PMs and PMMs struggle in this department. Skills assessments may cause uncomfortable conversations with not only their teams but also their superiors, as they have to explain why a majority of their team is not relevant to the essential activities. Without an honest assessment, “sunk cost” may occur as companies attempt to maintain the status quo. Yet, a new normal has emerged, and thus new strategies and skills must be prioritized. Don’t let old patterns and unrecoverable costs freeze your company. Just as Action One stated, act on the new data you receive, not the old data that is now irrelevant. By aligning your teams’ skills and business projection to the new market conditions, your company will be more proactive rather than reactive.  

3. Analyze the Old and New with Your Customers

 Encourage your customers to think creatively with you. Crises tend to create a new reality, one where the old way of thinking may not be as effective. It’s important that your customers feel heard and that their priorities are valued, so instead of forcing them into doing something new, partner with them and think strategically together. Not only does this help both you and your client decipher what is important and urgent, but it also builds mutual trust and understanding. For example, perhaps we suggest to our customers that sending unsolicited emails and unsecured leads would cost more and instead they should rethink their workflow around digital fundraising or digital marketing. Therefore, it’s important to be prepared when approaching clients. Present a new plan of action, showing how this plan would increase positive outcomes more than the old plan of action. 

Ask Yourself These 3 Questions

I would urge fellow market-driven CEOs and VPs of Product Management and Product Marketing to consider asking themselves these three questions:

  • Is what I’m about to do important or urgent, are we doing the harder ones, with greater unknowns, first?

 

  • Are the business priorities aligned with the skills of my teams and have I been radically honest about their ability to deliver?

 

  •  Am I challenging my existing customers to do things differently? If not, how should your company approach their loyal clientele to partner with your company to think creatively and innovatively in times of uncertainty?

 

So, this is why it is hard to let some fires burn. In crisis, it’s our natural tendency to run into the flames and save whatever we can get our hands on, but just as firefighters do when faced with something aflame, we must stop and assess the situation, considering the best plan of action to protect our company and customers. That’s why we at WealthEngine believe triaging with empathy and prioritizing ruthlessly leads to flawless execution. Saving time, money, effort, and of course, lives! 

Bon Triage!

PV Boccasam

CEO – WealthEngine

The Art of The Uncomfortable Ask

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“Can you help me?” 

What seems like a simple question may prove to be the most difficult, especially given our current reality. In times of hardship and struggle, everyone seems to be in need of something, and it may not seem like the most appropriate time to ask for help. 

There are times when everyone, everywhere, will have to ask an uncomfortable question. 

With the novel coronavirus causing a worldwide pandemic, our reality is one of uncertainty. There is no set timeline as to when this will all end or how long it will take for businesses to recover. We don’t know whether it is going to be a “U”, “V”, or “W” recovery curve. All we know is that it won’t happen overnight, even though we all wish it would.

The “Art of the Ask”

So how can we adjust to this new normal? Businesses and individuals alike will need to master the “art of the ask.” 

From asking your teenager to socially distance herself from her friends; to enforcing a “no handshake” rule in the office; to proposing a moratorium on payments from the vendors you do business with; to requesting your top customer to pay their renewal so you can pay your employees; or even recognizing the unasked questions, like giving your college nephew or niece unsolicited money to pay their rent. 

Unprecedented times demand unprecedented questions, and although they may seem inappropriate or unnatural at first, it is important that these questions be asked, and heard. 

Why? Because we all must move forward. Although it seems as though the world has come to an abrupt stop, life and business must continue. We all have bills to pay, payrolls to meet, obligations to satisfy, and an indefinite future to plan for, whatever it may hold. This means asking for a shared sacrifice amongst people with shared values and a shared commitment to your teams’ success.

No company, nonprofit, or institution is able to escape the inevitable situation that will require a difficult conversation. Let’s start with the retrenchment discussions we recently had at WealthEngine. We believe our purpose is to provide unwavering support to our customers’ mission – both nonprofit and financial institutions- who are doing everything they can to survive, so they may continue to protect the health and wealth of their constituents during these turbulent times.

So we asked all our WE’rs, as they are affectionately called, for a shared sacrifice to protect their fellow associates and to prevent mass layoffs in a time of global uncertainty. Every single one of them obliged, with key c-suite executives going on a $1 paycheck indefinitely. This was truly a trust exercise, and we responded with an abundance of gratitude and humility. With a hopeful agenda, we view this pandemic not as a hindrance but rather an opportunity to grow as a collective company. WealthEngine is not unique in this, for we know many other organizations and institutions are hosting similar difficult conversations. The Chronicle of Philanthropy offers a blueprint for how organizations can work proactively in the face of recession. As a company, we are eager to learn how others are working to support one another in this new age of the “shared-economy,” or as some put it, “shared-pain!”

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Nonprofits and organizations, who have to keep their museums, theaters, kitchens, educational and healthcare institutions funded, are seeking creative ways to aid both their patrons and staff during this crisis. However, to support a staff of artists, researchers, teachers, janitors, nurses, security guards, technologists, and scientists is difficult when institutions are forced to close, causing financial downturn. It’s important to recognize that the “art of the ask” occurs both internally and externally. Even after asking staff to contribute to a shared sacrifice, sometimes that isn’t enough, and companies must turn to their communities for assistance. 

Be Your Own Lobbyist 

In Washington, it appears that lobbyists have mastered the “art of the ask.” They continue to be their client’s best advocates, seeking to maximize the government bail for the industries they respectively represent. They are unrelenting in their requests, and regardless of the crisis at hand, they appear comfortable asking, and demanding, what is best for their client. Yet, it seems as though no one is lobbying for the nonprofits across the country, or the local preschool chain, or the performing art houses. That is why these institutions must become comfortable with the “art of the ask” and lobby for themselves.  

What can nonprofits do to become comfortable with the ‘“art of the ask”? 

Be bold. Be fearless. Be shameless about the cause that you believe in. Now is the time to reach out to your donors and benefactors to solicit for help. With their doors shut, the Smithsonian and other institutions are putting their natural treasures online, fostering their patrons’ curiosity by creating online art galleries and historical exhibitions. And in return, these organizations ask that their patrons continue with their monthly subscriptions, and in some cases, ask their patrons and members to pay monthly dues in advance. José Andrés, world famous Spanish-American chef, responded to the “ask” by closing down his restaurants in order to support a make-shift kitchen to provide those in need of a hot meal. There have been innumerable cases of everyday heroes doing extraordinary acts of kindness. 

What can healthcare providers and managers do to become comfortable in the “art of the ask’”? 

Be the community organizer and ask with persistence for people to practice social distancing and good hygiene as well as encourage community members to volunteer their time and dollar to their local hospital. Ask benefactors and patients already identified through Grateful Patient Programs to consider donating a portion, if not all, of the stimulus check they will receive from the government. Highlight the fact that protective equipment is in short supply and that their donations will support the production of more masks, ventilators, hazmat suits, and the sanitary material that will help fight this virus. #EverydayGiving

What can educators do to become comfortable in the “art of the ask”? 

Be confident headmasters that demand their students (and parents) to be disciplined in their at-home studies. Encourage them to utilize the variety of free online resources to develop new skills and continue to pursue their education. This is new territory for both teachers and students, and educators must collaborate with their students. Maybe it looks like teachers having an open conversation with their students (virtually, of course), asking their students what would best support their learning. And in return, teachers may ask their students to uphold a daily learning routine while asking for parents and guardians to be more involved in their childrens’ at-home studies.

What can wealth managers do to become comfortable in the “art of the ask”? 

Be calm, cool, and a trusted advisor to them. Advise and assist your client to stay with the plan they have already devised and tweak things as you have new information. Remember that before this crisis began, your client chose you to provide long-term planning and thinking through turbulent and stagnant times. If there is anything to do right now, perhaps it is to take no action, thereby reducing the volatility of your clients’ own lives and their company’s status in the market.

Next Step: Ask with Gratitude, Humility, and Hope

On a personal note, as someone who is in constant search of personal and professional growth, I find myself in intentionally uncomfortable situations. From leaving my home country of India for an American graduate school only to drop out as a Ph.D candidate to join a small company in Redmond; to requesting to be in a big client meeting as a lowly developer, with a very thick-Indian accent, at Microsoft in the early 1990s; to proposing and being happily married to an Italian-American and boldly introducing her to my deeply-conservative, south-indian-brahmin family in Bangalore; to telling my Microsoft boss that I was quitting in order to start my first VC-backed business (@entevo) in 1997, even though my business partner and I had no clue how to run a business; to deciding that it was the right time to begin a brand-new software startup (@approva) and asking a band of loyal associates to join me the day after 9/11; to jumping at the opportunity to be in the complex world of venture-capital (@novakbiddle) and private equity, an industry that involves constantly investing in unknown risks with unpredictable outcomes, a month after the Great Recession of 2008! It seems as though uncertainty, chaos, and volatility have been my best friends for years. I embrace it when it happens, and try not to ignore it but rather face the realities head-on. It helps to focus on what’s now and what’s next.

However, the majority of people view uncertainty, chaos, and volatility as foes rather than friends, which is why we all need to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Whether it is an uncomfortable conversation with boards, colleagues, co-workers, extended family, or friends, these uncertain times will require all of us to ask difficult questions. And more importantly, be patient with the answers we may receive.

For now, all we can do is ask with gratitude, humility, and hope.

 

High-Conversion Fundraising Tactics & Messages During Coronavirus Times

WealthEngine caught up with Rick Dunham, Chair of the Board of the Giving USA Foundation, to talk about what organizations can do to boost fundraising amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

View the Executive Briefing On Demand

Tune in to learn:
  • How organizations are pivoting to raise funds right now
  • What kind of messaging is working to increase conversions
  • Specific actions your organization can take in this tight market for dollars
Rick Dunham
Chair of the Board, Giving USA Foundation
CEO, Dunham+Company

Rick is a 40-year veteran in marketing, fundraising and organizational development for nonprofit organizations. After serving for 11 years in nonprofit management and fundraising leadership roles, Rick began his consulting career in 1989. In 2002 he founded Dunham+Company, which has become a global leader in providing fully integrated marketing and fundraising strategies for nonprofit organizations.

Raj Khera
EVP and Chief Marketing Officer, WealthEngine
Raj is a past CEO and co-founder of several software businesses, two of which were acquired by public companies. At WealthEngine, he helps to create more value for customers through thought leadership and game-changing product enhancements. He is passionate about supporting higher education and cancer research and volunteers his time at the University of Maryland and local schools.