Five Steps to Better Decisions

Product Managers don’t get to make every decision about their products.  If they did, everything would be perfect, right?  Well, maybe almost perfect, because the human brain — yours and your boss’s brain — carries around a bunch of stuff that interferes with objective decisions.  Here are the two factors that interfere with our judgment, and a five-step process you can use to minimize their impact on decision making.

The Problem with Patterns

When the brain assesses new information, it uses pattern recognition to begin to make sense of it.  If we have had similar experiences in the past, the brain tries to fit this situation into that pattern.  It often works well – that’s why senior executives can make many good decisions quickly.  But there may be key differences in the current situation that require further analysis and a different reaction, and those differences may be disregarded for a variety of reasons.

Emotional Tagging

Just like Twitter hash tags, the thoughts and experiences in our brains acquire emotional tags that help us quickly sort through what we should pay attention to, and its urgency.  We commonly think of these emotional tags as “biases” created by past experiences.  Unfortunately, bias can lead to faulty decision making.  We have seen many examples of biased product decisions, and we’d bet you could name a few, too!

So how do we set up decision processes to minimize the effects of inaccurate pattern recognition and emotional tagging?  Here are the five steps in brief; take this month’s Input survey <link to survey> to get the full guide, “Pivotal PM’s Five Steps to Better Product Management Decisions.”

  1.  Lay out a range of options:  best case, worst case, likely case.  These form boundaries for the decision and expose assumptions.
  2. List the main decision makers; prioritize them in order of influence.
  3. Uncover self-interest or other emotional attachments.  Check for misleading experiences.  The full guide provides questions you can ask that will help you uncover biases and misunderstandings.
  4. Repeat step 3 for the top two to five most influential people in the decision making process.  If you’re not in that list yet, add yourself now!
  5. Review the list of red flags you’ve uncovered and take action.   Get the full guide for ideas about how to mitigate the issues.

Regardless of who makes the decisions, it’s our job as product managers to bring the best data to the table and make sure it is considered as early in the process as possible.  Understanding these two additional factors will help you remove the obstacles to the best business decisions, and lead to more successful products – and product managers!

For even more ways to boost your product’s success and your career, join us for the next Product Management Intensive™ (Sept. 30 and Oct. 1).  If you’re in the Northwestern US, meet us at ProductCamp Seattle on October 10, a full, free day of networking and education.

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