The Art of Decision Making – Introduction

Decision making is hard.

Product management is about decisions every day. Snappy decisions about small features, and long drawn out decisions about expensive commitments.  Not only is each decision different, the way we make each decision is also different.  And, since we deal with people every day, there is always some added complexity.  Our methods, tools and ideas are constantly adapting to the needs of the decision.

Decision making stops being a science and becomes an art.  And in product management that art is our job.  So we need to be equiped with the right tools and ideas to be effective.  This series tries to take some of the best practice in the industry, share it and open the debate.  It’s a chance to expand our choice of tools in the process.

But why is product management different?

In product management we’re often tasked with the vision of the product. Of course this isn’t intended to be some fluffy concept, it is just a word that fits nicely. We are supposed to have some long-term goal in our minds; what it looks like, who will buy it, how it works, how it fills a customer need, etc. It has a current state, a final state, and some time in between – and it is all a bit fuzzy. And frankly the way we get from here to there isn’t always that clear either.

Product managers must have a vision, but it won’t be 20/20

And then there is the strategy. Or should we say strategies. The product strategy is how we intend to attain that mythical vision. There might also be a corporate strategy on how this fits in with the need of the organisation. And there might be even more strategies to do with customers, people and so on. Together these should offer guiding priority – the path forward and what is important.

And while product managers might have some say in the strategy and vision of the product, they are not enough. There is a long string of decisions and actions along the way that get us to the future state. And just like how every person is defined by the decisions they make, the same applies for the product. It is the decisions that product managers make that realise the product.

The enactment of the vision and strategy then becomes a set of decisions being made. Decisions by you and by your team. These decisions, in turn, lead to other decisions, based on interpretations and what you say and do. And if the decisions aren’t being made directly, then they get made somewhere else, where they might not be coordinated

Visible decision making provides guidance to you and your team. People understand the reasoning and direction, which in turn will help propagate into future decisions. Not just decisions by you, but decisions made by other people based on what you say and do.
So giving reasoning is important to decisions and to propagate your strategy and vision.

We have to be careful with decisions. Decisions are strategically important.

So what are decisions anyway?

In the next series of articles we’ll explore the process of decision making, break it down, and add in some advice from the trenches.  Please feel free to comment below to add to the discussion

Read part 2 – Defining the Problem from the Art of Decison Making series

Steve is a Product Development Manager at Telstra Wholesale.  The views expressed in this post are his only and do not necessarily reflect the views of Telstra.