As a Product Manager, you own the decisions made about your product. This doesn’t mean that you are always actually making choices, but that you are responsible for facilitating the making of decisions and are held responsible for their outcomes. While the outcome of a decision is the typical measure of success, I believe that PdMs should also focus on how quickly they can take advantage of an opportunity. In the fast-paced landscape of technology companies, especially startups, taking weeks or even days to make a decision could be long enough to render even a “perfect” decision (probably doesn’t exist) useless. All too often, to a fault, analysis is valued over execution. In this blog, we’ll explore how to leverage action to make better Product decisions.
To illustrate how overanalysis can cause a missed opportunity, consider the following scenario. You want to improve conversion on your website as a new competitor is beginning to take some of your potential users. You think you can make-up ground by improving the usability of the sign-up flow, and want to take some time to analyze the current sign-up data, do some user groups, run a few A/B tests, and optimize your site from there. While this sounds like a fine plan, PdMs need to be cognizant of the time they’re spending on optimization and planning in comparison to the magnitude of the decision. Doing user groups and inconsequential A/B tests over a matter of months may lead to a solution capable of doubling conversion rate, but at that point your competitor may have already swayed a bulk of your potential users. Also, how valuable are those acquired users in the end anyways? If you were able to make a slightly less informed decision that resulted in a slightly worse conversion rate improvement, but in half of the time, the end result would likely be a gain in users over your competitor. PdMs need to constantly evaluate the importance and impact of decisions with the amount of time and energy required to make it.
“This reveals something counterintuitive about decision making: your goal shouldn’t be to always make the right decision, it should be to invest the right amount of time in a making a decision relative to its importance.” – Brandon Chu, Making Good Decisions as a Product Manager
To make more effective product decisions, I recommend trying out the following techniques:
Keep the end goal in mind
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the details of a problem, forgetting what the actual end goal is. It’s helpful to take a moment to slow down and identify what the end goal is, which is usually larger/broader than the task at hand, and make sure you’re not getting hung up on details that will only have a minor impact. To do this, try increasing the visibility of your end goal, and tracing all changes/initiatives/tests back to that goal, so that your team always has their eye on how their work relates to the bigger picture. A good Product team will call things out if they feel out of line.
Plan to learn along the way
No decision will ever be perfect. Expecting to fail and learn (in a controlled way) along the way will put you in the mindset of execution, rather than endless analysis. This comes down to managing the expectations of your manager, team, and yourself. Knowing upfront that you’re going to take some chances makes acting on those chances earlier easier. Instead of building out a plan, which includes knowing the answers or delaying a decision, break the decision up into smaller, prioritized decisions and start at the top. Working through this list will allow you to make better smaller decisions that are less risky and daunting, allowing you to learn faster. Having this expectation at the start will take the pressure out of the situation.
Doing something (within reason) is better than doing nothing
Action typically outweighs idleness when faced with a product decision. This feeds the learning mindset, pushing you to take steps towards your goal, even if they are not 100% the right steps. The key to managing this risk is to keep the steps small, and to tackle lower-risk problems with less information while spending more time on higher-risk decisions. Those small steps will compound into leaps of positive progress, and you will have made them quickly. One of our company core values at CrossChx is “excuses are for losers”, so every time I’m faced with a decision where there doesn’t seem to be a clear path forward, I remind myself that there is always something that can be done. There is typically no excuse to do nothing—there is always something that can be learned.
Being at the center of products, PdMs own the result of all decisions made. To effectively make decisions, Product teams typically employ a number of frameworks, but can get bogged down in the perfect solution. To take full advantage of opportunities, PdMs should consider the timeliness of their decision heavily against the potential impact of their decision. Making the right decision too late isn’t valuable to you or your customer.
Afterword: While searching to see how other PdMs feel about this topic, I stumbled across Brandon Chu’s blog Making Good Decisions as a Product Manager (quoted above). I cannot agree more with his post and recommend reading his post if you want a deeper dive on the mechanics of this sort of decision making.