Decisive book club – part 5 of 5

We have covered all the villains and their counter actions and all that is left to do, is to work on keeping these villains out of our decision making efforts.  To get more anecdotes and tips that will resonate for you pick up the book by Chip and Dan Heath yourself: Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.  They also have a great set of tools to support the reading at their website.

I needed one last post to pull all lessons of this great book together.  Each piece of advice will improve your decision making, but if you do not include people in what you are doing the tools will only help you with personal decision making.  As product managers, it is how we help others that will really make a difference at what we do each day.  So please resist the trap of thinking you don’t have time to add these steps into your product management process. Because there never is enough time in the day, a product should have shipped yesterday, the development team is screaming for more stories, and there is always someone calling for decisions to be made faster.  Resist the temptation to make a snap decision. Teresa Torres also draws attention to this area from her review of Decisive and argues it is an area product managers need to be mindful of.  Taking time to consult with people on the decision(s) to be made creates buy in.  Buy in helps with execution and will save you time in the long run.

We often find ourselves having to communicate decisions to those not necessarily involved directly in that moment.  Here the procedural justice approach can be really helpful in allowing people to understand the path that got you to that point.  They may not like the decision outcome itself, but if they understand what went into it, it will help with acceptance of the decision.  One tip that was called out here, was to not only highlight the good sides to the decision but also the downsides or weaknesses.  Again, this allows others not directly involved in the decision know what the triggers might be for changing the direction.  While we might fear this will lead to sabotage of the effort, it can lead to the opposite and helps with gaining support.  Because now, those impacted by the decision can help with preventing the negative outcomes.  And sharing the consideration that went into the thought process buy in is more likely. By having everyone on the team keeping an eye out for tripwires, you actually have empowered your entire team/organisation to ensure you keep doing the right things at the right time.

So the last pieces to remember to include people in the process are:

  • Bargaining yields buy-in (seems painful to the decision making timing, but helps with implementation/execution)
  • Procedural justice is another way to show that thought has been put into a decision (think of a judge system here, when the reasons are clear and considered, both sides of the case feel heard).
  • Highlighting some of the downsides of a decision can be another way to get buy-in by calling out areas that might be a trigger or tripwire for reconsidering in the future

“Decisive is a way of behaving.  Better to try and fail than to delay and regret.” 

In summary of the entire blog series we have covered the 4 villains and how we can counteract them:

Thanks for reading and please feel free to add comments on any of these areas below or let us know if there is anything else you would like to see us cover.

Decisive book club – part 4 of 5

So we have got to the last and final villain of decision making: Over confidence. This is the moment you need to prepare to be wrong!  But don’t worry – being wrong is not a bad thing – it is a time to learn and being prepared is part of your success strategy.  To review how we got this far check out the previous posts Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

Preparing to keep your project or efforts on track are not signs of weakness but as I said ensure success.  The key insight from what the Heath brothers have researched is that if you follow some of these steps as a process you can really assist yourself in getting yourself out of some of the mind traps that we all fall into. For example one way to help get people thinking of things that could go wrong is to do a pre-mortem; i.e. do the post-implementation review or what could be done differently activity at the start of the project instead of at the end AFTER you have made the mistakes you are now discussing.

If you as a product manager guide this process by puling your team together who is executing on this decision and asking what could go wrong here, you can guide them into the mental shift to plan for the future.  Don’t forget to ask what could go wonderfully right.  A lot of projects I have worked on often worry about the worst case scenarios – I may have been surrounded by good decision makers already – but we often fail to plan for success and that can catch you out as well.  Using any tool to think ahead and prepare to be wrong does not mean you don’t go ahead with what you have decided, but it helps to know what you will do when those situations occur.

Some of these areas will make sense if you have followed a good project management approach, but you can kick off any of these techniques yourself.  My favourite out of all these tips was the tripwire.  The tripwire can be a great way to catch yourself at a certain point in the future and consider making a new decision, because you have new information at hand, or that flag that someone said “would never happen” has.  It can be a chance to go back to others who have made a decision and allow you to challenge it, because the factors that the original decision was based on have changed.

The great story that went with this tripwire in the book was about David Lee Roth and his bowl of M&M’s free of brown ones, which he insisted he have backstage at every performance.  The ultimate diva behaviour if this is the only part of the story you have heard.  The band’s production design was particularly complex, and while they had a road crew, much of the prep work had to be done in advance of the road crew arriving.  So they had a set-up contract that was pretty complex, and if any of it wasn’t followed correctly it could leave the band exposed to serious injury.  One of the clauses, deep into the contract and amongst all these technical specifications, was to have a bowl of M&M’s backstage that must be completely free of brown M&M’s.  If David Lee Roth walked back stage and saw even one brown M&M in the bowl, he would pull everyone up and insist on a check of the entire production set up.  His tripwire had gone off, and this was a great way to let him know the band was at risk because critical instructions had not been followed.

There are so many ways to help overcome over-confidence and prepare to be wrong, that I felt this was one of the easiest villains to defeat.  (Hah, a bit of over-confidence slipping in there!). Often one is following through on someone else’s decisions and these tools can be really useful for feeding back to the decision-maker flags or tripwires for when a decision needs reconsidering:

  • do a pre-mortem.  Think what could go wrong and then plan in preventing that
  • bookend things – worst to best scenario and have a plan for either outcome
  • FMEA = failure mode + effect analysis.  How likely is it, and how severe the consequence if it were to occur (and how likely will we be able to detect it, if it were to occur)
  • pre-parade: prepare for success as well as failure!
  • correct for over-confidence by multiplying by a certain factor (i.e. dev estimates, predictive models etc.)
  • treat the future as a spectrum not a point in time
  • add in a tripwire!!  (David Lee Roth story, brown M&Ms)
  • Triggers are another way to recognise when a (new) decision making moment has come up
  • Partitions also an option to create conscious thought on following through/or not on a decision

The book by Chip and Dan Heath can be purchased here: Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.

The last blog post will wrap up with a couple of key take-outs from the book overall and summarise what we have covered so far.

February Events

This month we have Jason Cormier from Mashery talking about APIs.   His session is entitled ‘Your APIs are so product ready, it hurts’.   We’ll be at the Mail Exchange at 6p for a 630p start on Thursday Feb 20th.    RSVP now!

And our afternoon coffee will be the following Thursday, the 27th, at Brunetti’s at City Square (Swanston & Flinders Ln).   We’ll be there from 2-3pm.   RSVP now!

You can just turn up for any of our events but we appreciate it when you RSVP as it gives us an idea re: how big of a table to grab at coffee or organising space at Mail Exchange.

Decisive book club – part 3 of 5

We are middle of the way through reviewing Chip and Dan Heath’s excellent book Decisive. To review previous posts check out Part 1 and Part 2.  This section is about short-term emotions and how they can get very much in the way of making a good decision, which is especially perplexing when you have made significant effort to overcome self-confidence.

This next villain, short term emotion is an important one for product managers to think about as we are always introducing new things to an organisation. Short term emotion or loss aversion lead to strong bias against change. So even if you personally have managed to overcome your own bias against change, others are going to express their resistance strongly, and having some tips to work through it will help you be an effective leader of change.

One of the ideas the Heather brothers suggested here is to introduce familiarity, or as they more eloquently put it make use of the exposure principle. By introducing concepts gradually it can help overcome strong emotional responses. One of our group shared an experience, where they kept printed copies of all the pieces they were working on stuck up on their cubicle wall so that everyone could see what they were busy with at any time. This meant that by the time more formal presentations occurred, there were no surprises and thus less resistance to what was new.

The example in the book called out that the approach to breeding familiarity can take many different courses. In this case, new words were shared with students by chalking them up on the lecture board each day.  When the students were introduced to a new author to read, they felt they already knew who this person was, as the author’s name was one of the words that had been on the chalkboard each day (familiarisation done over a period of a few weeks). That might seem an odd approach but the key is that it doesn’t matter where the familiarity comes from, it helps with the acceptance of the book and author anyway. This particular tool resonated for many in the group, when we discussed it at our Product Anonymous session, and people could see some new possibilities for improving on their previous efforts at introducing the new.

So you have overcome confirmation bias thus far and those ugly Short-term emotions cloud your judgement, so some of the ways to help Attain distance before deciding (or as I like to call it “Phone-a-Friend”) are listed below:

  • sleep on it
  • what would you tell your best friend to do?
  • Exposure principle + loss aversion leads to a powerful bias against change
  • 10/10/10 rule: how would you feel about this decision in 10 minutes, 10 months or 10 years
  • short-term emotion may distract you from long term aspiration
  • core priorities (I hear vision in this tool, what is the product and its purpose)
  • the what will I stop doing in order to DO the things I said I will now do

Just in case you haven’t been convinced to own it for yourself because I cannot cover everything, the book can be purchased here: Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by the Heath brothers.

The next blog post will be about the last bias of them all Over confidence and how to Prepare to be Wrong.

Decisive book club – part 2 of 5

Welcome back, we are diving into the next bias in the decision making process that Chip and Dan Heath cover in their fabulous book Decisive.  We cover each of these areas as it helps us become better people, better product managers and better advisors to our peers.  To review the first post check out Part 1.

Confirmation bias is a terrible villain and one that is quite difficult to avoid. When listening to feedback in an user review session we are psychologically primed to only hear the positive comments rather than anything that does not affirm what we already believe to be true. This is why user testing and research studies suggest pairing when performing these activities. One of our attendees also made the suggestion to deliberately seek out a colleague to review what you are working on, to help you counter your own bias.

The idea of building prototypes, and smaller iterations in development (using Agile or other methods) to get the idea tested early is one that resonates well amongst a product management group. The word Ooch was the terminology the Heath brothers had picked up from an entrepreneur who had had success validating an idea before scaling up. I like the word myself and reading through some of the examples in the book it reminded me there are other ways to reality test your assumptions than only those I knew of from an agile approach. I think that is useful to remember because once you have gotten a development team up and running and your in motion it can be hard to change course if any new information comes up to suggest the project or product you are working on is not a good one to continue with. In some ways, it creates another form or confirmation bias where you continue the path you are on despite all other warnings to the contrary. Kodak would be a good example of this, where when they first reviewed the market, digital cameras were not taking off.  However, they needed to add a trigger or tripwire to let them know that it was time to review that point of view.  We will talk about triggers in a later post.

There were many great tools in this part of the book that are helpful not just for decision making, but also innovation and idea creation in your role as a product manager (or any other role where you build things).  Such tools include learning from experts (this was also covered in the IDEO HCD course as a key step), “ladder up” from the problem, see if you can find an analogous or totally other way to solve the problem in front of you (again an IDEO HCD step to reality test ideas), essentially see what others have done when solving the same problem and if the option they chose succeeded.  This will help you make a better decision, and if you still follow the same path, help plan for any of the obstacles you have now learnt about.

Other ideas or ways to Reality test your assumptions and help counteract your Confirmation bias are listed below:

  • actual attempt to make a mistake (a great way to challenge assumptions)
  • go for an outside or expert view but avoid prediction questions. have an expert remark on baselines, and talk about what they know. ALL people are terrible predictors of the future.
  • close ups are useful to colour the averages, the data and the overview
  • be a user yourself, to gain “expertise” and see it that close up (Bounty example, which is a paper towel product, where they used the competitor product in house, and removed confirmation bias of their own product. All scientific comparisons showed they were the better product but until they put competitor product in house, and had everyone from marketing to development using it for themselves)
  • Ooch! before leaping – test and learn

Don’t trust my posts on this book, get it yourself, there is so much valuable insight within: Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by the Heath brothers.

The next blog post will be about the villain Short term emotions and how to counteract them with Attain distance before deciding.

Decisive book club – part 1 of 5

We make decisions every day.  Not all them need to be done better but some of them, both personal and professional decisions could be improved upon.  Surely you have got caught in either making a decision that you later regretted or not sure the best decision was made by others.

Our last Product Anonymous catch up was a book club session on Dan and Chip Heath’s book Decisive, which helps guide you to better decision making by providing some tricks to avoid the key villains involved.  The great part about learning these tricks is that you will learn to make  better decisions as a product manager, which is a great feeling since you are making them everyday, and you will also become a better advisor to others.  We will cover each bias and counteract pair in a separate blog post.

So what are these wily villains that keep us from making kick ass decisions everyday:
  • narrow framing
  • confirmation bias
  • short term emotion
  • over confidence
Knowing the villains is not an instant fix for avoiding these common decision making traps but the counter points are easily remembered using the mnemonic WRAP:
  • W. Widen your options
  • R. Reality test your assumption
  • A. Attain distance before deciding 
  • P. Prepare to be wrong

None of the group on Thursday, apart from myself, had read the book, although Jen had skimmed it just before the session. As we went through the villains and the various ways you could counteract them, we nonetheless had a great discussion because as it turned out many at the gathering had used some of the tricks, without knowing that’s what they were called!  Since so many alternatives are offered in the book there was also some nice discovery of additional options to assist with future decision making process.

Stop asking “whether or not” questions was something that made so much sense to a group of product managers!  When so many people one encounters in your day to day work are often asking questions with this narrow framing bias, and we have to help them realise there are more options available and other choices to be made.  Having said that I think we all realised we sometimes shrink down our options too quickly for ourselves, due to the speed we are moving at.  That was a great call out the Heath brothers made in the book, that while it feels counter-productive and counter intuitive to to do this we limit ourselves when we reduce our options in order to expedite things.  Because putting more options on the table not only may allow you to find a a better alternative, the improved execution due to a much better considered option will speed things up at that later stage. Thus, (assumed) time lost at the beginning will be gained at that more complicated stage of delivery. There was also another great suggestion here to not frame your options to think only AND/OR but turn it around and have both, for once someone advising have your cake and eat it too.

To help others widen their view, a couple of good questions were suggested that can help this shift. Ask a group of people attempting to make a decision what evidence they would require to change their mind, or what would have to be true for them to come to an accord.  This can be a good way to co-ordinate a large group of people with different points of view and interests, to declare what they need to know to move forward.  Once you understand this, you can then collate that necessary information.  It is also a great suggestion for getting the group to work together to gather that data.  There is now more of a focus on the proof needed, than on ones agenda.  This tip I felt was useful from a product management perspective as we are often gathering many different stakeholders together to be on board for new initiatives.  Using this strategy can really help with buy-in, which is something we will talk more about in a future post.

So to sum up this villain of narrow framing and how list out some other ways to widen your options when faced with this villain, which we haven’t gone through here:

  • vanishing options test
  • opportunity cost (how many developers is that?)
  • simultaneous design or multi-tracking (but even by adding one thing you can you can widen your considerations and still avoid choice overload).  DON’T fake the options you add in.  They need to be real
  • balance a prevention mindset vs. promotion
  • find someone else who has solved your problem
  • a playlist of stimuli/questions to help widen the options as a regular approach
  • analogous (this came up in the IDEO stuff) – to get granular detail go local, to be conceptual go regional/national more broad
  • laddering up – these solutions require leaps of imagination, but you never know where inspiration/innovation will come from
  • STOP asking “whether or not” questions when framing the decision.  This will keep you in a narrow frame of mind thinking what about AND as well as the OR!!
  • consider the opposite option

Pick up a copy of the book here: Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by the Heath brothers.

The next blog post will cover the villain Confirmation bias and its counter move Reality test your assumptions.