This Isn’t Going Well — How Do We Pivot?

Pivot strategy

Pivot, pivot, pivot! — Ross Geller. The one with the cop (ep. 16, season 5).

If you’ve ever done, well, anything in life, you know that things rarely go according to plan. Even the most seasoned PMs have faced unexpected issues during a project. What sets them apart is the ability to shift gears accordingly and guide their team to the finish line.

Pivoting effectively is more than just changing directions. It is making strategic decisions based on the information available. And it is an essential skill any PM must develop.

But how do you pivot without losing sight of what matters?

The First Line of Defense: Risk Management

Risk management plans are an essential step in the planning process that helps us prepare for issues arising during the project lifecycle. A risk management plan includes all the identified threats, or risks, from vendor delays to natural disasters.

Risk management consists of five phases: Identification, Analysis, Evaluation, Treatment, and Monitoring. Each stage sets you up to deal with things if and when they happen. However, the first step — Identification — is crucial for success. And sometimes, we just can’t predict where things will go south. This is where a lean approach can help you navigate murky waters. Here’s how.

Staying Nimble in Project Management

Traditional approaches use a regimented structure in which C follows B, which follows A. This is typically known as Waterfall and is better used for projects with clear steps for completion. For example, you will want to lay the foundation before building the walls of a home. However, this rigid approach is not ideal for projects where teams can discover information as they go.

Conversely, this is where modern methodologies like Lean, excel. Lean project management relies on tools like DMAIC to identify areas of improvement and reduce waste, which can include anything from unwanted features to expensive activities that stretch the budget too thin. Once pinpointed, teams can address waste and improve outcomes by pivoting.

10 Strategies for a Successful Pivot

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to pivoting successfully in business. Instead, you’ll need to evaluate your products, audience, and messaging to define the best approach.

There are ten primary pivots for business:

  • Zoom-in. This strategy prioritizes a single feature and removes the less successful or impactful ones. A restaurant reducing its menu to a few best-sellers is the perfect example.
  • Zoom-out. Zooming out is the contrary, and it requires adding complementary features to serve a broader functionality.
  • Customer segment. This type of pivot is more of a messaging/brand strategy one, and it requires readjusting your positioning to target a new segment with everything else remaining the same.
  • Customer need. This is perhaps the hardest pivot, as it requires restructuring your offer to serve your customers’ needs effectively.
    Platform. This refers to changing from a platform to an application or the other way around.
  • Business architecture. Pivoting your business architecture means going from high margins and low volume to low margins and high volume, or vice versa.
  • Value capture. The value capture pivot requires a change in how you monetize the business. A recent example is Twitter’s new subscription model, Twitter Blue.
  • Engine of growth. For businesses to last, they must remain in a positive growth pattern. You can do this by investing money into acquiring new customers (paid growth), retaining customers (sticky growth), or reaching customers through word of mouth (viral growth). This pivot model requires shifting between these models.
  • Channel. Perhaps the most known pivot, a channel pivot is going from one channel to another to acquire customers. For example, launching an online store or app to reach a new audience.
  • Technology. Through this approach, teams leverage new technologies to achieve the same or better results perceiving other benefits like lower costs, better performance, or increased satisfaction.

Pivoting in Lean Project Management

In project management, and especially in software development, you will hear the words iteration or iterative a lot. Iteration refers to providing value quickly to capture feedback early on. This allows you to incorporate feedback into your process, which helps you build a product closer to what your customer wants.

Pivoting requires changing directions in response to the challenges or new discoveries you discover through this feedback. It requires adopting a new perspective and testing new alternatives to solve the problem. But that doesn’t mean it is impulsive or random. Instead, there are three elements for a successful pivot.


Pivoting is a strategic change of direction, meaning it must come at the right time and in the right proportion to address a problem — not make it worse. You’ll know that it is a good time to pivot if:

  • You’ve hit a plateau — you’re not losing momentum, but things just don’t seem to go anywhere.
  • You’re getting negative responses from customers and prospects, or they’re going to competitors.
  • You gained new information about the industry or market.


No need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Pivoting is better done in highly-focused phases in order to measure impact and continue to adjust as you go. This is especially true for adding elements — less is more. Start small with one feature or change and build momentum over time instead of trying to be everything to everyone.


Whether you change your product or your positioning, a successful pivot must address a real audience need. At their core, all pivot strategies are needs-based, and the most successful strategy will be customer-oriented.

Adaptability is Key in project management

Staying nimble in project management is essential for generating better outcomes in any situation. It can be a make-or-break difference in increasingly competitive markets, recessions, and moments of crisis.

Are you looking for a methodical approach to project management that reduces waste, optimizes your use of resources, and enables your team to deliver better outcomes for happier customers?

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