Good Product Decisions Need Principles

Several women of colour sitting at a workplace table having a discussion.
Photo by Christina @ / Unsplash

As product leaders, one of our most important responsibilities is to establish clear conditions for good decision making. Alignment on problems without clarity about how to make good decisions is where lots of the teams I've worked with over the past few years have found themselves.

In one study "Decision effectiveness and financial results correlated at a 95% confidence level" in companies earning over 1 Billion. My friend Martin Eriksson has written a lot about how to make better decisions at a company level.

The Decision Stack by Martin Eriksson

Decision making can be a complex and challenging task but it's one we're all going to use every single day of our careers in product. Being a product leader, you need to help your product people make decisions with confidence and enough accountability that being right a lot matters.

Making good decisions at the organisational level as a product leader means  doing 3 things well.

  1. Principles shape decision making
  2. Decision barriers are managed and reduced
  3. Focus on quality of decision first then quality of outcome

Ensure principles shape decisions

Values and principles are a good way to ensure you're making good decisions or at least the best possible decisions with the information you have.

When I coach new leaders about stakeholder collaboration, this is one of the areas that's often the least developed. They spend a lot of time trying to polish their ideas, or advocate for their point of view, instead of allowing a pluarlity of tradeoffs to exist alongside each other.

As a product leader, when you're gathering stakeholders together to weigh in on strategy and direction, ensure you help people understand what principles they can use as common language to make decisions.

One great way to create a common language for your stakeholders and collaborators to make decisions is sharing  even-over statements, a framework that clarifies tradeoffs between two equally good things. Few decisions in business are shaped by an obviously good thing and a bad thing, so shaping up some tradeoffs is a great way to help your team and yourself influence decision making.

Product tradeoffs
Mobile experience even over desktop experience
New bets even over feature optimisation
Initial signups even over existing user retention
Optimisation even over new customers

Business Tradeoffs
Premium quality even over mass market adoption
Revenue growth even over user growth
Customer service even over expansion

The best principles are reversible
The point is that each of these statements is reversible, and can change a lot about how a company behaves based on their overall strategy. For example a company could focus on amazing customer service because retention and customer lifetime value is their most important strategic levers. Or, alternatively they could choose to focus on upsells in existing customers as a way to drive retention. The way they choose even over statements can help shape decisions.

As a leader, you can set the framework for making decisions, and then bring discussions back to principles and tradeoffs when facing a dead-end or folks who want to dig in on one position without flexing. This is one of the easiest ways to shape the conditions for good decision making.

Thank You

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