Three Questions Product Teams are Responsible for Answering in 2020

This article is contributed by Yemi Adewunmi, co-founder and chief product officer at Civic Eagle, a software company building technology for the future of policy analysis and legislative intelligence. Yemi is a digital product designer passionate about developing strong brand identities and building user-focused digital experiences.

2020 is the year that has forced product leaders to re-evaluate everything about the products they’re building. As we’re all becoming acutely aware that the world will no longer be “normal,” product leaders are facing the question of what this means for their products. Good product leaders and their organizations are asking themselves how they can create value during this time and make a difference in the lives of their users.

At Civic Eagle, we’re building technology for the future of civic engagement and political transparency. Our flagship software product, Enview, makes it easy for leading organizations to discover legislation and manage public policy; in my role as a co-founder and the chief product officer, I had to especially consider these existential questions.

Now more than ever, our products need to make a positive impact in our end users’ lives. The ground-shifting events of 2020 — the coronavirus epidemic, civil rights movements around the world, and more — have streamlined our customer’s attention and consumption. Anything deemed unnecessary has been cut. So how do organizations and product leaders ensure that they are continuing to build products that evolve with their users?

Product leaders can ask themselves these three questions to discover opportunities to make a real impact in their users’ lives and this new world we’re living in.

1. Do you have a clear vision of the world you want to impact?

This is an expansion of the popular notion by author Simon Sinek to “start with why.” The first step is to understand why your product is needed in the world. Ask this question to identify your north star for why your organization exists.

To answer this question you need a clear vision of how the world is transformed by your product; what’s different, what’s improved, and why your end user cares about this vision. The answers to these questions will be your foundation for how you adjust your product’s positioning in the new reality we’re all navigating.


2. Do you have a clear understanding of who you’re serving and what their role is in the greater ecosystem?

Your end users do not exist in a vacuum. They have a key role and responsibility, and your product is one tool they need to perform this role successfully.

Taking a step back to consider your users’ position during this time can illuminate opportunities for your product to provide added value to them.

At Enview by Civic Eagle, we recognized that usage on our legislative intelligence platform took a steep decline in the immediate weeks after the coronavirus lockdown. We understood that in our users’ role as government affairs specialists, their work was more or less at a standstill until legislatures could reopen.

In order to engage and continue to provide value to our less active users, we created and launched a newsletter to summarize coronavirus-related legislation and police reform-related legislation that my team researched on our platform. By sending this additional (read: bonus) content to our users, we stayed top of mind and demonstrated to our users that we were with them each step of the way.

This initiative took about 6 hours FTE per week to research, generate, and distribute this content. But this strategy engaged customers, provided brand awareness to prospective customers, and demonstrated our ability to serve our unique users’ needs.


3. Have you explored strategic partnerships lately?

I wholeheartedly believe that it is the role of product leaders to advocate for innovation as much as possible within an organization. During these changing times there are incredible opportunities for companies to think outside of the box and tackle new challenges, and it is the responsibility of the product team to facilitate this progression.

Lean on design thinking methodologies to uncover new ways to row in the right direction, while also leaving a net positive impact on your users and your communities. Now is also the perfect time to explore opportunities for social impact within your business model.

Collaboration is the new competition. Extend your product, services, or offerings to strategic partners for mutual benefit. Perhaps now is the time to reconsider your vertical integration plans and focus on horizontal expansion while partnering with other organizations.

Making an impact means taking the ego out of your work, so don’t be shy to approach adjacent and complementary partnerships during this time. This is an opportunity for you to extend your value to your users and community at large.

If I could speculate one trend in the product world following all the events of 2020, it would be an increased empowerment of the role of product within organizations and business models. ‘Product-first,’ ‘product-led,’ and ‘product-focused’ will be increasingly common terms to describe teams around the world.

Good product and good design are more important than ever in the lives of our users. As we navigate the new set of challenges in front of us, let’s keep our eyes open to the wide array of new opportunities available. I hope these questions will kickstart your exploration into designing for greater impact.