Making Hard Choices as a Product Manager

making choices
Image by Nathan Dumlao through Unsplash

I was at an event where the keynote speaker told us when asked by his young daughter on what he does as a product manager, he said:

“My job is to make a lot of decisions every day.”

Although there are other ways to define what I do day-in and day-out, I often think back to this quote. Even though product managers don’t build the product directly, they make decisions which helps the teams and enables them to get things done. One of the biggest values a product manager brings to table is providing clarity which is the result of an informed decision by an opinionated product manager. Avoid these mistakes when you are making a decision:

Don’t try consensus decision

At first glance finding solutions that everyone actively supports seems like a great idea but consensus decision has two major drawbacks. The first one is not everyone wants to be involved in decision making. I know people like Marty Cagan advocate engineering involvement in product discovery but in my experience few engineers are interested or have the time to observe how users interact with a product or be involved in product discovery. Second and bigger problem in my experience is reaching consensus is near impossible! No matter how much you spend time on it by nature different departments have conflicting demands; Sales wants feature X as soon as possible but Legal won’t approve it until regulatory features Y, Z are added to the mix. While you are trying to involve both group and find a compromise the engineers are waiting on which feature to build!!

Collaborate closely with a few key stakeholders and understand their must-haves but the decision on what to build and in what order is yours alone. Know that everyone will NOT be happy with your decision but for your unhappy stakeholder you owe them a justification of your decision and should manage their expectation.

Don’t take too long to decide

Unless what you’re deciding on is high stake don’t spend too much time on it. It takes a REALLY LONG time to involve everyone, get their input; when coming to a conclusion prolongs it zaps the energy and momentum out the team involved. I was once tasked to build an application system that authorized various groups of users and provided different access level to them. The architect involved was to select the suitable authentication and authorization tool to do this. He wanted to pick the right tool because the company was going to use this authentication and authorization framework for years to come. However he obsessed over this decision by taking months to analyze and compare various tools. By the time the final decision were made we had so many false started that engineering team was already fed up with a project that hasn’t even started yet!

If your decisions can be easily reversed make them as fast as possible. Even if your decisions have high impacts for the business, do your due diligence gather up data, talk to people and do your competitive analysis but put a time limit on this process and when the time comes make as informed of a decision and move on with your decision to enable your team to get the ball rolling.

Don’t second guess your decision

Once you made your decision you need to commit to it to allow it to succeed. Second-guessing yourself lowers the odds of success and makes you look uninformed and haphazard in your decision making process. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t change course if new valuable insight comes up but questioning the wisdom of an agreed-to decision weakens the trust and alignment you worked hard to build with rest of the company which lowers the odds to succeed. Once you make a decision, commit to it.

Even though the above list by no means is exhaustive list things to avoid they have been helpful guard rails for me. I want to leave you with a list of excellent and quite useful articles on this very subject including 10 Habits for Making Wicked Hard Decisions by Gibson Biddle, Making Good Decisions as a Product Manager by Brandon Chu and finally a fascinating TED talk from Ruth Chang that explains why hard choices are hard.

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