Good product owners delay when they can.
Great product owners decide when they must.
One of the most difficult yet important aspects of being a great product owner is learning how to be decisive in the face of incomplete information or conflicting priorities.
When decisions are difficult it’s tempting to put them off—to do a bit more research or talk to a few more people first. It’s equally tempting to avoid making a decision at all—promising instead to give everyone everything they want. The result, as you can probably guess, is that nothing of value is actually delivered.
Take Kenny, for example, a Studio Director for an award-winning video game company and acting product owner for a new game development. The company is struggling to develop this new game and Kenny is getting pressure from his boss about the lengthy R&D phase they have just come to the end of.
Good product owners overcome the tendency to delay decision-making by understanding the reasons behind their inaction and then taking concrete steps to make progress without compromising the future. In the face of fear and uncertainty, great product owners are courageous and DRIVEN* to make a decision and move forward.
Sometimes, of course, the right thing to do is to delay the decision until it is absolutely necessary and this can take courage. Ensuring that the right decision is made at the right time by the right people requires a great deal of courage, confidence, self-awareness, and humility.
Great product owners first work out exactly what is making the decision difficult. Causes can include:
Overwhelming amount of options or information
This inability to make a decision when faced with too many choices was famously studied by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper. In their 2000 paper, “When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?” they found that when presented with six different kinds of jam, 30 percent of people ultimately bought one of the jams. However, when presented with 24 types of jam, an incredible 97 percent of people ended up buying nothing. Iyenger and Lepper concluded that too many options made decision making more difficult.
This is why Kenny is having trouble making a decision about which technology to use to build the new game on, as the options keep coming from all angles and he just doesn’t have the time needed to properly asses each of these before arriving at his verdict.
Fear of failure
People who procrastinate out of a fear of failure may be unconsciously changing the question from “Am I able to do this?” to “Am I able to do this with very little time.” In other words, they are telling themselves and others that it isn’t that they can’t do something—it is just that they can’t do it in such a limited amount of time. No one, including themselves, can judge them harshly for being unable to perform given the time constraints!
Perfectionists have a similar problem, in that they fear not being perfect so strongly that they simply avoid choosing in order to avoid judgement.
Lack of assertiveness
Often we can avoid a decision because of the fear of upsetting someone and the judgement we may perceive could be placed upon us because of the decision we make. This overdone desire to please people and not be badly thought of can be a major factor in our inability to make effective decisions.
Decide To Be Brave
DRIVEN product owners manage to strike a balance between making quick decisions and delaying commitments. When they get stuck, they recognise and consciously choose to tackle whatever is undermining their ability to make a choice, whether that’s a fear of failure, the desire to be perfect, too many options to choose from, a struggle with assertiveness, or something else.
Whatever the dilemma and no matter the strategy they choose to face it with, great product owners are brave enough to actually make a decision. Then, once they make that decision, they stand by it, while also being prepared to re-route the course based on what they learn.
Remember also that not making a decision is still a form of decision and sometimes it’s the right decision to make: delaying unnecessary decisions in an uncertain world is often a very good strategy. It is important to keep in mind, however, that although good product owners delay some decisions until later, great product owners never shirk their decision-making responsibilities.
So does Kenny make a decision with incomplete information that may turn out to be wrong or should he delay until he has more information but risk waiting too long?
What would you do in Kenny’s position? Tweet me @geoffcwatts with the hashtag #productmastery.