Summer 2020. A turbulent time for me and for most people in the world, a summer unlike any other... err... recently.
The usual summer lull was exacerbated by the slew of worldwide layoffs, which luckily for us only meant:
- A slowdown in sales and leads — roughly 33% less — during Q2.
- Some people churned mainly due to cost-cutting. We offered a promotional extended period to help. Tip: always reach out to your SaaS provider before canceling if it’s due to external circumstances like COVID-19. If their customer team has done their job they will always have a plan laid out to help.
- We were able to maintain our team and growth, and shift our roadmap to help remote teams in need.
But what about Q3? The new normal was here to stay and our plans looked more like the old normal but working from home. Some exciting new features and metrics, further analysis capabilities for our Enterprise customers and custom dashboards… So a recurring question kept floating around:
“Can we do something specific for the COVID-19 situation?”
Yes, I admit it — the FOMO was strong for us too: do social media! Do discounts! Do massive email campaigns! Chances are you’ve probably seen this too in your own company.
We were stuck in this good ol’ classic loophole of event-related marketing. The easy way would have been going ahead and saying yes and voilá, there you go, another company sending emails nobody cares about.
However, one day during an otherwise unremarkable meeting, an idea came to us: “What if we analyze how COVID-19 changed our email habits?”
Let’s analyze email habits before/after COVID-19
I realized immediately that this idea was, at the very least, unique. There were little to none companies apart from us that could do that. We already had the infrastructure and thousands of accounts synced! You can see how this quickly brought us some excitement. I mean, think about it: is there something that only your business in the entire world can offer?
Our team quickly found examples of users who were basically interested in something similar.
And, after all, our own habits had changed too. Our team was sending more emails since they were fully remote. I also felt that work/life boundaries were getting more blurry. Lots of efforts were being put into staying connected by all means. So we were curious about our own data.
Shifting the product roadmap
This was the most simple part. We just… did it. A roadmap is a guideline, a principle, an intention. Quoting the team at Salesforce, «the things we could do are limitless, but the things we will do are finite.»
As also expressed by Matt Lemay «It's not the roadmap, it's how you use the roadmap». A roadmap is a strategic communication tool and not a plan of things set in stone.
Modifying your roadmap is not a failure, but a privilege. It means your team is lean and flexible. New ideas with potential can get prioritized and explored with the right timing, and it is principles and vision that drive this prioritization, not written commitments. You need to be sure that if goals change, your team will be able to shift.
So moving forward, the project was now a highlight in our modified roadmap and the clock was ticking, so we defined things as quickly as possible.
What would be the most useful thing to see?
We came up with a simple definition of this new product. Some (initially) lo-fidelity UX flows with 5 insights to compare before and after the WFH shift:
- How many more (or less) emails had passed through your inbox.
- The change in number of emails sent outside your normal working hours.
- How your response time changed.
- Who you emailed the most.
- What your first COVID-19 related email was.
When we thought about what had changed the most for us, these are the things that stood out. If they were useful for us, we hoped they would be useful for everyone else. We also used some inspiration from Spotify’s annual report!
Our first reactions were mixed, and as we progressed with user research feedback we learnt that some fundamental parts of the report weren't being expressed correctly. What was the value for the user? What could they learn from each insight? How could they act on our data?
We had to rework a lot to make sure we were expressing the original idea we had, and to ensure our insights weren't a dead-end. Just being told that you received a lot more emails during lockdown wasn't as useful as being told some things you could do about it.
Prioritizing the fundamental issues or swimming vs. drowning in a sea of feedback
Our user research quickly expanded into dozens of users to confirm some of these issues, and new issues kept appearing. Experienced researchers will immediately argue that this is a classic Pareto problem — but when you’re in the heat of the moment it gets harder to tell.
We stopped and sat back. Then we applied Pareto principles in a brainstorming session. Again you’re limited by the investment you’re making in this project, so we targeted the most fundamental issues and quickly got our hands into developing solutions.
Learnings and conclusions
It’s always easier to picture neat working processes in the aftermath than beforehand. There’s always going to be limitations and friction and your process should focus on handling that, not on handling mere inputs (ideas) and outputs (products/features)
- FOMO challenges your decision making process. Be aware of it.
- By switching our roadmap we learnt our team capabilities and bottlenecks.
- Our product design process wasn’t ready for this friction. Is yours ready?
- By introducing a new product we also discovered some possible brand/design improvements that would never have been visible otherwise.
- I personally learnt that I sent 9% more emails outside working hours during lockdown. I should review my work/life boundaries and I actually felt more stressed recently.
- We had more than 5000 people trying their WFH report just in the first weeks, and received thousands of new signups to Email Meter.
Some things we’ll be able to quantify and measure in a gain-loss structure. Others, are invaluable things that happen only when you take the initiative.
— “My WFH in emails” is available for free at wfh.emailmeter.com
— It was featured on Product Hunt on September 26th
— Launch feedback from customers and new users was great.