The full economic impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic has yet to be determined. But even as I write (March 16, 2020) it’s become very clear it will be significant. How will the pandemic affect software product development? Since that’s what we do, it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to. What advice should we give to our clients? How might we help them as trusted partners?
Digital is Different
Software products, and digital products more generally, are very different from physical products. Creating them is almost 100 percent design and engineering — there is essentially nothing to manufacture. While we very much appreciate the advantages of being co-located as a company, we also work quite effectively with clients remotely. The tools for remote collaboration keep getting better and better. During a pandemic, those tools support social distancing and allow people to collaborate safely and effectively.
Digital products are also different from physical products in that they don’t involve complex supply chains. No supply chain, no supply chain interruption.
Software is more and more the source of competitive advantage. The pandemic may even amplify that.
Lemonade from Lemons
Some, perhaps many, companies will pause their product development efforts during the pandemic. Some may be forced to do so by the drastic, immediate impact on their business. But for others, this may be a chance to think differently, act confidently, and gain in the long-term.
If your competitors suspend product development and you don’t, you have a great chance to either catch up with them or further your lead in the market. I once worked with an entrepreneur who looked at Christmas vacation as an opportunity to get ahead of everyone else by working straight through. While I didn’t then (and still don’t) agree that’s a smart long-term strategy, the pandemic may be a legitimate opportunity to gain an advantage for the long-term.
With their employees working from home and some normal operations suspended, companies may find they actually have more employee time and creativity to give to new product development.
With the right partner and collaboration tools, companies should be able to use this opportunity to great advantage.
Our government seems eager to maintain liquidity. This is pushing interest rates down to Great Recession levels again. If capital is available, stepping on the gas of digital product development may look unconventional today, but really smart by next year. I believe some companies are going to move ahead in their market by thinking long-term during the crisis.
What can companies like Atomic Object do to be good partners in the pandemic?
First, we can be aware of the unique pressures our clients are feeling. On a personal level, that means being more empathetic than usual — not doing anything to exacerbate their problems, extending grace if they’re grumpy or distracted, and asking how we personally might help.
Second, we can be flexible with our teams, processes, meetings, and style of collaboration. We can share our expertise with remote collaboration tools with our clients (for Atomic, this is a great way to live our “teach and learn” value mantra).
Third, we may be able to help them gain the advantage in spite of cash flow issues by extending our payment terms. While software development companies aren’t banks, the better we run our businesses, the more we can help our clients through a short-term problem.
Fourth, if a client has no choice but to suspend a project, we can shut it down cleanly and responsibly so it can be picked back up again in the future with minimal waste.
Lastly, we can do everything possible to protect our staff and our companies. As innovation service firms, we have a vital role to play with our clients, and therefore, in our communities. We need to be there for them now, and in the future, as the world comes through this lousy situation.
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