Vary your strategy for making decisions

If you want to be a bad product manager, choose the same decision-making strategy for all decisions. You need to be consistent and reliable in how you make decisions, and you can’t do that if you change your ways with each new question that comes along. You can choose to make all the decisions on your own all the time — you’re allowed to, since you’re the product manager after all — or get input from others in varying degrees. The important thing is to make it clear how you’re making decisions, since you want others to be prepared and familiar with your strategy.

If you want to be a good product manager, choose the decision-making strategy that is right for the decision you need to make. Consistency is not important and even detrimental as it relates to how decisions are made, since every issue and question will be different. Product managers need to know all of the different options and choose the one that is right for the situation.

Author and columnist Marie G. McIntyre has a great summary of the five decision-making strategies:

  1. Make the decision by yourself.
  2. Get information from others, then decide by yourself.
  3. Before deciding, consult with others one-on-one to get their views.
  4. Before deciding, have a group discussion to explore options.
  5. Ask the group to reach a consensus independently.

Product managers need to know when each is appropriate, and Marie offers good suggestions. Understanding the reasons to use each strategy is important as it ensures that trivial decisions do not get delayed and important decisions do not get rushed. There is nothing more frustrating than a product manager who feels the need to consult with others on decisions he should make on his own, or a product manager who makes a decision by herself when she really should get considerable input from others.

Good product managers know how to leverage each of the strategies. For example, if you are specifying a new requirement for the next release but getting push-back from engineering because of technical challenges, you could just make the decision that it needs to be implemented, since it is your call. However, you could instead have a group discussion, including marketing, sales, user experience, and other stakeholders who know the importance of the new requirement, along with engineering. In the end you will likely reach a “group” decision to implement the new requirement, but this time with the added benefit of engineering understanding its importance to the product and seeing the support for it from various groups.

Understanding the different decision-making strategies and choosing the right one does more than just ensure that a decision is reached in the right way. It builds buy-in from others since they are consulted when appropriate and helps establish the decision-making role of the product manager. Product managers who consciously select the right strategy for the right decision are well on their way to success.

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