How To Make The Best Product Management Decisions

by drjim on July 9, 2008

How Product Managers Can Make Better Judgment Calls

How Product Managers Can Make Better Judgment Calls

Warren Bennis is a smart guy (professor of business administration and chairman of the leadership Institute at the University of Southern California). He’s cranked out a book called Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls and it has a few ideas that really relate to how IT Product Managers can make better decisions.

It turns out that the ability to make good judgment calls when you are a Product Manager is very important (surprise!) because of the impact on others that all of your decisions make. When do these Product Managers get called on to make judgment calls? Warrne identified of the most common three areas: people, strategy, and what to do in a crises. We see the impacts of people judgments around us at work every day. Technically gifted folks who get put into a product team management role for which they are poorly suited, great team leaders who get bumped up and become paper-pushers, etc. The successes in choosing the right people for the right job gets reflected in how successful the product will be. The mistakes can cause lots of damage and are expensive to replace and to repair.

Strategy judgments are the big ones that can make or break a career. In today’s hyperactive product development environment speed is often prized over accuracy. Warren brings up a great IT product example in his book: Intel. Many folks don’t realize this, but Intel got its start in manufacturing and selling memory chips. When the prices in this market started eroding and the Japanese manufacturers started coming on strong, Intel had to make a product judgment call: stay in the memory chip business or move on to something else? Gordon Moore and Andy Grove made the decision to move on (to CPUs) and the rest, as they say, is history. Good judgment call.

Finally, the ability to make good judgment calls in in middle of a crisis. Once again Intel serves as a good IT product example. Back in 1994, as Intel was releasing the latest version of their x86 chip line it was discovered that under certain circumstances it would return the incorrect answer from a math operation. Initially Intel took the IT road in its response: it did some math and stated that the average user would only see an error once every 27,000 years. However, that didn’t sit well with most of their customers and eventually Intel had to offer to refund/replace the defective chips. This initial response was a very, very poor judgment call on Intel’s part.

So what can product managers do to make better judgment calls? Warren suggests that we work on improving four areas of our knowledge that are critical to making good judgment calls: self-knowledge, social-network knowledge, organizational knowledge, and stakeholder knowledge. Hmm, sure sounds like aligning the product management organization with the rest of the business would go a long way to making this a reality!

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