Decision MakingLead Bullets, an old post from Ben Horowitz, is a strong reminder about the hard decisions product managers face. His company was square in Microsoft’s targets, so he furiously sought out a silver bullet (or two) that would enable them to retain their competitiveness. In the end, Ben’s colleague had to set him straight.

Ben, those silver bullets that you and Mike are looking for are fine and good, but our web server is five times slower. There is no silver bullet that’s going to fix that. No, we are going to have to use a lot of lead bullets.

This set Ben along the path of making the decisions necessary to focus his development team. While many of Ben’s decisions were fairly straightforward, others are not. As others have noted, good decision making as a product manager is absolutely essential.

The more important the decision, the more important the analysis. We have many tools and methods available to use to help during this period, but it’s still important to remember the analysis is only as good as the person working on it. Below are high-level thoughts on how to approach your decisions, regardless of the tool involved.

  1. Stay informed. It goes without saying that you should always stay up-to-date with industry trends and customer wants/needs. Time spent here not only pays off during planning phases, but also during fire drills. Being educated keeps you focused on solving the right problems.
  2. Check your assumptions. Bad decisions many times come from faulty assumptions. Take the time to re-visit what you think you know.  Also, make sure you’re humble enough to recognize that there may be facts critical to a decision missing. The need for self-reflection  grows directly with the importance of the decision.
  3. Develop alternatives. There is typically no one right answer. Make sure you have options to effectively compare and contrast. If you’re unable to create any, seek out others that may hold differing view points.

Other tips, tools, and templates are listed below. The list is far from comprehensive, so your suggestions to the list are welcome.

Links on Decision Making

Books on Decision Making

  • Thinking, Fast and Slow: Thorough explanation of the author’s System 1 and System 2 beliefs and how these forms of thought work with and against each other. Great for learning about “how” we think.
  • The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement: A classic, written in narrative form, about seeking to identify and exploit the constraints in your business.
  • Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes: It has many of the same concepts found elsewhere, but using Sherlock Holmes as the point of focus made this an enjoyable read for me.
  • Six Thinking Hats: It can be a bit touchy-feely for some, but still provides a usable framework for collecting data, organizing it, and making decisions.