Planning and prioritising in a pandemic

We’ve been helping clients adapt their business models through rapid prototyping workshops, and now we’re opening them out to everyone.

I’ve resisted posting anything Covid-19 related these last few months, however, it’s time to break my silence.

TL;DR: this post doesn’t offer up any ready made solutions, predictions, words of wisdom, or a witty take on the utter shit show that is the current situation. Instead it’s about how we’re using our design thinking experience to ideate potential solutions that allow businesses to operate through the lens of social distancing and lock down. We’re wrapping all of this up in a three hour remote workshop, which we’re offering out to businesses free of charge.

There’s a lot of noise on LinkedIn at the minute about how businesses should adapt and change given this current – brace yourselves, here’s that word again… – unprecedented situation. I’m seeing what feels like a never ending stream of posts and articles attempting to predict what the next move should be, declaring how marketing budgets should be spent, pointing out how customer experience is even more important than ever before, or debating how and what we should communicate to our audiences.

I’m not saying that the above isn’t important, but the common thread is the assumption that businesses don’t already know all this. The truth is, whatever plans are being made are changing at a rapid pace – almost daily, based on Government updates and guidelines. In fact, I’ve already written and updated this post a few times based on the fluid nature of the situation.

So, how do you create a plan of action when the goal posts are constantly shifting?

Planning mode

Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that plans are simple to understand, easy to communicate, flexible to change, and, most importantly, prioritised against what will drive the most business value with the least amount of effort. Whilst this may seem obvious, it requires following a simple framework to map our options out, with the potential to create multiple versions to test and validate.
Over the last nine weeks (although with two young children at home, it honestly feels a lot longer…), more and more conversations that I’ve been having with clients and prospects fall into two categories:

  • What should we be doing to be best prepared for whatever the new normal will be?
  • Covid-19 has highlighted that we need to diversify how we generate revenue

The first point is probably easier to tackle, in this post at least. Let’s start with what we know; until a vaccine or cure is developed and effectively rolled out, social distancing in some form is here to stay, with the potential of multiple rounds of lockdown. Even when social distancing rules are officially relaxed, there will still be a level of anxiety, meaning that people may not bounce back to life as we knew it straight away. With this in mind, our focus should be on adjusting current user journeys (both internal and external), touch points, and experiences through this lens.

Adapt or die

Based on what we know now, businesses will have to adapt. Adapt by providing more digital self-serve options. Adapt by finding ways to implement social distancing for customers and employees – or by pivoting to operating some kind of remote solution, based around their core business model. And adapt by building robustness into platforms and tools that may have been thrown together quickly, or are dealing with far more demand than they were initially built for.

To help our clients on this journey, we’ve dipped into our rapid prototyping toolbox, cherry picked a number of techniques from our full day ideation workshops, and wrapped these up in a three hour remote workshop.

This workshop allows us to work with product teams to quickly:

  • Visualise the current user journey and touch points using a typical journey map
  • Identify the job the user is trying to get done at each stage and overlay on to the map
  • Detail which areas are currently impaired, restricted, or more difficult due to the current situation
  • Reframe the job as a set of ‘how might we’ questions, through the lens of social distancing and lock down measures
  • Rapidly ideate potential solutions to answer these questions
  • Review potential solutions, filtering and sorting based on effort vs. time vs. impact
  • Plot the solutions onto a prioritisation matrix to form our plan, allowing us to easily re-evaluate if requirements change

This framework allows us to rapidly rethink customer experiences, define new features, and, in some cases, create entirely new propositions.

Getting our priorities straight

Figuring out the order in which to do things is now more critical than ever. Budgets have been restricted and, for some businesses, the size of the workforce reduced. Ensuring teams are aligned and focused is critical to reduce the risk of customers going elsewhere if they can’t get the service they need.

After creating a shortlist of potential solutions, we use a two by two prioritisation matrix that allows us to group ideas into do nowdo nextdo last, or do never.

Emphasis is obviously placed on the do now segment, but the do next quadrant also needs significant attention. The reality that many businesses are facing is that the response to Covid-19 has pushed things that were on the do next pile, probably for completion next year, right into the do now pile.

Customers want to do business in different ways because of social distancing. Implementation of technologies that will facilitate that, which were already on the roadmap in the do next pile, must be brought forward to meet those customer needs.

This thinking allows us to be realistic with what’s actually needed and what’s achievable in the given time frame.

Some companies have been better placed than others to help bridge the gap created by the current situation. For example, consider purchasing your weekly shop. The supermarkets that can provide home delivery and click & collect have seen a massive increase in demand for these services – and in some cases, even been overwhelmed by that demand. The limiting factor has been having the infrastructure in place to be able to deliver at an increased volume to satisfy the demand.

If customers still have to visit a physical store, the question becomes, ‘How might we reduce the number of times people are in close proximity to each other, or touching shared surfaces?’ Answers to this question might be to provide pre-packaged boxes or bundles of produce, or to increase the availability of self-service checkouts. Sainsbury’s have answered this question by allowing customers to use their smartphone to scan items straight into their own bag, removing the need to interact with a cashier or use a store provided scanner.

A solution like the example above is clearly going to take a period of time to build, test, optimise and roll out, so is now the right time to start that process? This relies on a number of things, including budget, technical ability and existing systems, and so will be dependent on the technical maturity of each business. The beauty of the rapid prototyping framework is that we can have multiple solutions for each question, so if one option is not feasible, we can select another, more viable one.

Book a workshop session

After running some really valuable workshop sessions with our clients recently, we’ve decided to offer a limited number of three hour rapid prototyping workshops for non-clients, free of charge.

We’re acutely aware of the need to keep as much cash on hand as possible, with any spend having to be justified more than ever, so we know the chances of getting sign off to spend on a workshop with a new partner, without the upfront guarantee of any tangible and immediate return, will be low! However, we still want to open up conversations with amazing product teams, and this seems like the best way for us to use our skills and expertise and provide some value. Being completely transparent, we’re obviously more than keen to work on those digital tools which may need outside help, but we also understand that if you have existing agencies or internal teams, they may get the work – and we’re fine with that too.

Rapid prototyping workshop:

  • Three hours
  • Completely remote – all you need is a laptop and and internet connection
  • Great for teams working in product, sales and marketing, operations, or digital experience
  • Run through Miro, an online collaboration tool – you’ll have access to all the outputs after the session
  • We can also tailor the theme if you want to jump straight into a specific problem and ideate solutions from there

Our clients know their businesses better than anyone else, so we’re not professing to have all of the answers and ready-made solutions. Instead, we bring to the table our listening, design thinking, confidence to challenge and problem-solving to co-create solutions that are specific to the unique challenges each business is facing. Each workshop we’ve run so far has ended with a handful of ideas that can be worked on immediately by internal teams without the need to involve anyone else, and others that require either modifications to existing platforms or new builds.


We have limited slots available now, so if you have three hours, are willing to get creative, and are interested in some thinking that might help your business, drop an email to and we’ll give you a call.

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