This is a story about how we pivoted and launched a new product in the middle of the pandemic. It shows how you can break almost every rule, turn a traditional design process inside out, and end up with a successful product.
In 2020, at the start of the pandemic and full-blown lock-downs, our company had to sunset its core project. We had a great team but limited time to find a new application for existing technology (payment plans) that would allow the company to survive and potentially thrive on the COVID-affected market.
At some point, we got in touch with a water company from Kentucky and realized that we could use our technology to help people with utility debts that had sky-rocketed during the pandemic.
Create, launch, and validate a new product helping people and utility providers to manage their debts and keep water services on during the pandemic (while still making a profit for Promise in a non-exploitative way).
* benchmark set by previous vendor
Not only did we want to offer our payment plans as soon as possible to people who struggle, we also had an important external factor that forced us to rush — the government moratorium on water shut-offs was about to end. Everyone who would sign up for a payment plan would be protected.
Understanding this context, our Eng team started building the key features and integrations even before we had defined the full scope of work, agreed on the initial design, or were able to do adequate user research.
Under normal circumstances this would be a clear path to failure, in our case, it was the most logical way to proceed and shorten our go-to-market time.
It took some effort for me to squeeze user research into our timeline. The timing (halfway through the implementation cycle) was not perfect, but, you know, better late than sorry.
Usually, I would team up with a researcher. In this case, I owned the project from start to finish.
One more issue
Five is just a handful, but it was enough to verify our initial ideas, pre-validate our product offering, and to come up with product insights, additional hypotheses, and a list of possible features.
I used sticky notes to list the goals for each screen, available actions, potential issues, and questions for the team to answer.
This seemingly unnecessary step helped the team to align and agree on the goal for each page and allowed us to move more quickly as a group. It also led us to our first big product decision and trade-off.