Making Better Decisions as a PM
Your job is to make decisions
As Product Managers, our job is to make decisions. On a daily basis, PMs make decisions ranging from “What should we build to deepen our competitive advantage?” to “What should the text on this CTA be?”
Without a strong decision making process, PMs can find themselves stressed and afraid to move. Let's unpack how PMs can make quicker and better decisions, manage stakeholders effectively, and serve customers well.
Does Product Discovery slow down decision making?
Not at all - if it is managed well. The pushback I have often heard from CEOs on Product Discovery is often “why are we doing Discovery, can’t we move faster?”. This is very fair pushback, especially if Discovery efforts are not run well.
As a PM discipline, we have been pushing hard on importance of Product Discovery. It is very valuable for teams to be clear on what problem we are solving, for whom, and what the right solution should be.
However, many PMs mistake having to do Product Discovery as having to answer all questions before making a single decision. Some PMs feel the need to be able to defend every decision that they make with documented facts. However, the need to have facts for every decision causes PMs to feel like they are always behind on their work, with many PMs feeling like they are constantly stressed that they don’t have all the answers.
With limited time and resources, every hour spent on decisions with little risk takes away from validating more important and riskier assumptions. Not all decisions need to have extensive User Research, A/B testing, and Competitive Analysis. Cross-functional Product Teams (PM, Engineering, Design, Business) should make quick decisions after assessing the risk factors together.
Making quicker decisions also means that customers get value faster, and you get real world facts to determine if you need to course-correct.
Type I vs. Type II Decisions
As Jeff Bezos describes it - there are two types of decisions. Type I vs. Type II decisions.
- Type I decisions are irreversible decisions.
- Type II decisions are reversible decisions. Much like going through a door - if it does not work, you can always turn back.
Type I decisions should be made with a lot of care. Examples of these decisions include:
- Building a new tech site: where reversing this decision would involve letting go of a team.
- Sunsetting a product: where you will need to help current customers move to another solution (perhaps even a competitor).
- Changing subscription pricing: where users will be charged a higher amount from the subsequent month. Churned customers due to a pricing change may not come back even if the price change is reverted.
PMs should ask themselves what type of decisions they are trying to make. Odds are, many decisions are Type II decisions - reversible ones. When making Type II decisions, PMs should opt for quicker decision making to deliver value to customers and course correct if it does not work.
Empowering teams to make better decisions
As managers, we have a responsibility to coach our teams to make better decisions. It is not their fault that they feel stuck in decision making. Often times, it is the environment that leads to PMs feeling like they can’t make a decision.
When presented with options - avoid making a quick decision before hearing out the thought process from your team. Force a recommendation and have them explain to you why they believe a decision is hard to make, the options they have evaluated, and what they think is best for the business/customers. Managers should augment and provide feedback on their team’s thought process and not feel the need to always make the final decision. If managers always make the final call on every decision - teams will feel the need to always escalate decisions and will not be truly empowered to move fast.
Keeping a decision log
For PMs who are new to the trade, putting together a light Decision Log may be useful. A decision log should contain:
- What is the decision that needs to be made?
- What is the risk of making this decision?
- What data points were used to make the decision?
- What decision has been made?
- Retrospective (to be filled in after the fact) on the decision
For the PM: Even if the Decision Log is not publicised, having to write down a thought process is a useful practice to build the muscle of a risk-evaluation and making a call.
For Managers: Reviewing Decision Logs can be a great avenue for coaching - help team members with their thought process and how they can make it better next time.
For Stakeholders: Decision Logs can also be published and shared with the organization to improve transparency.
As a PM - you will never be able to run away from decision making. Like many other skills, it is a muscle to be built for yourself and your team.
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