How to Prepare Your Product Development Team for a Crisis

From challenging your assumptions to shipping nimbly, this is how you build a product team that responds calmly and bravely under pressure.
Headshot of author Sara Radkiewicz
Sara Radkiewicz
Expert Contributor
June 29, 2021
Updated: July 13, 2021
Headshot of author Sara Radkiewicz
Sara Radkiewicz
Expert Contributor
June 29, 2021
Updated: July 13, 2021

Sometimes it takes a big event to shake us out of our routine. One moment, we are living our lives, cruising along on autopilot. Then something significant happens, and everything changes. 

The pandemic has been a life-altering, traumatic event. It has even changed how many of us approach our everyday lives — and navigate the obstacles that may come our way. In my case, it has directly impacted my daily work and the way I  tackle new business problems and opportunities. If we choose to persevere and adapt, we can rise to the occasion and bounce back stronger. 

For the past 18 months, CarePort Health has been determined to do just that in order to help our customers. To give you a bit of background, CarePort is the leading care coordination network in the U.S. Our software platform tracks a patient’s entire healthcare journey, from urgent care to post-acute care, giving providers and payers better visibility into a patient’s care to help ensure positive outcomes. 

We quickly realized we needed to make specific adjustments to our software to help customers on the front lines deal with the extraordinary issues caused by the pandemic. To implement these enhancements quickly, we found we also needed to change our business processes. These modifications, though incremental, ultimately helped our customers navigate challenges presented by COVID-19 — and also bettered CarePort as a company. 

Below are three business lessons I learned as a product manager for software used by stakeholders in healthcare during the chaotic early months of the pandemic.

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1. Continuously Challenge Your Assumptions

The first lesson may seem basic, but it’s where many established companies fall short. We always assumed our disparate IT systems could never be integrated. We had looked at integration techniques, but the consensus was that it was too complex, too difficult and that the customer would never go for it. 

With the cold reality of a pandemic staring us in the face, we started to challenge our long-held belief that integration was impossible. A team was formed to innovate a new product, one that would allow the systems to talk to one other. 

And guess what?The integration succeeded! Not perfectly at first, but it worked, and the team continued to refine it until we achieved what seemed impossible just a few months prior. Now, we are using the same techniques to scale the integration techniques across all products to provide a more cohesive experience for our customers.

 

2. Release and Iterate

The next lesson we learned was all about getting things done and shipped quickly. Typically, product development involves research, data analysis and experimentation to understand which enhancements will work and be useful and well-received by our customers. 

During the initial months of the pandemic, however, we didn’t have the luxury of collecting customer input to inform product strategy. Our customers, like everyone else, were dealing with a host of other issues — most critically, the health and well-being of their patients and staff. Still, they needed our support during these unforeseen circumstances. So, we took risks. We made educated assumptions on what was needed and what would help our customers.  

During that time, we were in uncharted territory because we didn’t have anything historic to relate to. We tested and quickly made iterations as we received real-world feedback. Everything was agile, whether it was ideation, developing, testing or iterating. And because we didn’t have time for a rollout with A/B testing to determine the best course, we built in escape hatches. If we were wrong, we could quickly bail and roll back our changes. 

Fortunately, our assumptions were correct, and those escape hatches weren’t needed. But they were there, just in case. This experience reminded us that sometimes calculated risks are worth it.

 

3. Collaborate and Communicate Across the Organization

Collaboration and communication are important even in the best of times. But when things are chaotic and changing rapidly, both are especially vital. To deal with this rapidly changing environment, I set up a daily half-hour meeting with our entire cross functional team. 

Normally, this would be excessive. After all, everyone is busy. But these daily meetings proved to be extremely successful in a fast-changing environment — so much so that we now set up work groups across departments to provide feedback in specific product areas. They are no longer daily, of course, but they are on a regular cadence, ensuring the feedback loop continues.

These three lessons enabled CarePort to rapidly meet the needs of our customers during a period of unprecedented upheaval and uncertainty. But the results are much broader and long-lasting. We’ve become a stronger, more agile and innovative organization moving forward. And if you prepare your team to respond calmly and bravely in a crisis, you can, too.

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