Why Product Managers Should Not Listen To Their Gut

by drjim on September 30, 2013

Listening to your gut might not be your best move

Listening to your gut might not be your best move
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When we talk about the skills that each of us needs in order to be a good product manager, one skill keeps coming up over and over again: the ability to make good decisions. It think that we can all understand why this is so important; however what seems to be escaping us is just exactly what we need to do in order to become better at doing this.

More Options Let You Make Better Decisions

One of the biggest problems that product managers run into when it comes time for them to make a decision is that they then tend to “narrow frame” the decision by considering only one option. The question that they are now trying to answer is “should I choose this one” instead of “from these options, which one should I choose?”

All too often, we like to “go with our gut” when it comes time to make a decision. However, it turns out that it’s the wrong thing to do. A much better way of handling things is to make sure that you change the decision that you are going to make and provide yourself with multiple options to choose among. This way you’ll start to get a much better feel for all that the solutions can offer you and you’ll be in a better place when it comes time to make the decision that counts.

How To Start Making Better Decisions

In order to start to make better decisions for your product, you are going to need to start to take the time to consider both sides of the decision. This means that unlike times in the past, you are going to need to work to develop both sides of the story.

When you start to do things like this in order to help you to make better decisions, then all of a sudden this decision making thing starts to turn into a repeatable process. In fact, a process like that is something that you can teach to the rest of your product management team.

By taking the time to formalize how you and your team look at decision making problems, you will start to make better decisions more consistently. No, you won’t make the right decision all of the time. However, you’ll start to make better decisions and you’ll be sure to make the right decision when it really matters!

What All Of This Means For You

The one thing that all product managers need to be able to do is to make good decisions. We end up making so many different types of decisions that it’s very important that our decisions turn out to be the right decisions. However, before we can do this with any real sense of regularity, we need to learn how to make good decisions.

One of the key factors in making good decisions is to ensure that you have more than one option to decide between – this helps you to fight off any attempts that you might make to narrow frame your decision. You also need to start to understand that there are two sides to every decision. This means that when you are faced with making a decision, you need input on both sides of the decision so that you can pick between them.

Making good decisions is what is going to allow your product, and your career, to succeed. No, you don’t have to be right 100% of the time; however, you want to be right more often that you are not and learning how to make good decisions is how you can make this happen.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: When you are collecting options to consider when you are trying to make a decision, how many options do you think that you should consider?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As a part of your product development definition, one of the things that every product manager eventually does is to create a business plan for their product. In this plan we lay out a strategy: what customers we want to go after, what problems we want to solve, and what product we want to offer to them. However, what do we need to do if we’re wrong? What do you need to do if you created the wrong business plan?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Roger L. Cauvin October 3, 2013 at 10:47 am

Sometimes gut can be a great way of making product decisions, but it needs to be informed by qualitative and quantitative data.

I call it the “intuition” method of making product decisions, and it poses at least two major risks. One is that intuitions about the market simply don’t reflect reality, sometimes due to projecting one’s own personal preferences on the market. Another risk is that marketing principles aren’t common sense. E.g., expanding the number of problems solved or personas targeted usually seems like a good idea, but Ries and Trout’s law of focus counsels us against it in many cases.

Being sure to consider multiple options can help address the risks associated with intuitive product decision-making. But perhaps more important is to decompose, and make explicit, the factors that guide the gut and decisions.

As I described in a recent blog entry, in addition to “intuition”, “customer wants”, “deal driven”, “left brain”, and “industry experience” are other ways companies commonly make product decisions. Each has its pros and cons, and lean startup methods are emerging as an important complement to these more traditional methods.

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drjim October 4, 2013 at 7:38 am

Roger: great points. One of the biggest problems with intuition is that it’s based on what’s happened to us in the PAST. This may not be the best way to make decisions about what it happening NOW…

Reply

Roger L. Cauvin October 4, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Aha! True that market sensing is an ongoing task. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns.

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