What happens when a once in four years live mega-event meets a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic? Ask Andrew Yu, former Senior Product Manager for the 59th Presidential Inauguration. In the midst of a global pandemic, it came down to product managers to transform one of the largest live celebrations in the country into a digital-first experience. In this recent Product Talk episode, host Patrick Blute sits down with Andrew to discuss what went down behind the show and how product leaders can apply those learnings to the product lifecycle.

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On turning a live event into a digital-first experience

It’s not often that digital product ventures into the world of live events. In a year that changed all the rules, however, anything is possible. Andrew shares what it was like to work on “the most ambitious, innovative inauguration ever, out of necessity.”

“A lot of product management skills are very durable and flexible and they can be readily applied to a lot of complex problems and different problem spaces. When it came to the inauguration and putting on a digital-first experience, it was really about going through a checklist of your skill set to realize the goal of helping Americans feel engaged during this time of unprecedented crisis.”

“As product managers, we’re accustomed to operating in chaos and thriving in ambiguity, right? That’s what we love and hat about the job – I personally love it. What’s great about an election and the inauguration is there is a set date, so it’s time-boxed. On the flip side, you’re also very time-constrained.”

On learnings and takeaways

Within every product lifecycle lies a rich set of learnings to be carried on to the next stage or build. Andrew shares his takeaways from working on a product that was under the spotlight at all times.

“When a project is that visible and under a microscope at all times, with that many eyes on it, even the smallest things get picked up. It wasn’t a normal product. Essentially, you are representing the incoming administration, and there is a very clear tone and very clear messaging that we need to adhere to on every single page and every single component that is shipped.”

“It definitely helps with being even more detail oriented, which we have to be as product managers. It instills some very good habits. If you operate as though you are working on the presidential inauguration for everything, right then you’re just going to improve the quality of everything.”

On productizing the Biden Campaign Recount

“Within the general certification and verifying process, there’s a date pipeline that ultimately funnels up to what we call the Counts with a capital “C”. For every component and every step of that process, there’s some form of UI, data collection, and big data processing that needs to be built.”

“When there’s something that’s so mission-critical, meaning there’s a clear day with a clear objective and a lot relying on it, a lot of the day to day operational frustrations just fade away.”