Deciding to Make a Decision

Why ambiguity is the worst thing in product management

By Ken Norton

2 min read • Sep 27, 2016

Ken Norton

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“Ambiguity is the worst thing in product management because when you’re not clear on what you’re saying no to, it creates a lot of decision debt, which affects a team’s focus and motivation.”

Check out “Ken Norton’s Discipline of No,” an interview I did with the fine folks at The Signal, Mixpanel’s in-house publication. I talked about how I learned to say no, and why delaying tough decisions is worse than making the wrong call.

Good Reads

Organizational debt is the accumulation of changes that leaders should have made but didn’t.” Scott Belsky agrees with me: he writes about the consequences of not making decisions in Avoiding Organizational Debt.

How repeatable are your decisions? When we make a decision, we like to think we’d do the same thing again, given the same data. But legendary Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, writing in Harvard Business Review, has evidence to the contrary. He and his research team show that “noise” can cause us to contradict our own prior judgments, given the same data on different occasions. Formal rules, checklists, and algorithms can help tamp down the noise, but may not always be practical. (Note: Kahneman is the author of one of my favorite must-read books for PMs: Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman is also the subject of an upcoming book from Michael Lewis: The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds)

Can positive product reviews backfire? According to a study published in Harvard Business Review, positive product reviews can increase a customer’s likelihood of buying. But they can have a counterintuitive effect as well—raising expectations too much. According to the authors, this can lead to an increase in returns as disappointed customers decide the real product couldn’t live up to the promise.

Fifty product management blogs you should be reading. This is a good list.

Originally Published: September 27, 2016

Ken Norton is an executive coach who works with product leaders. He spent more than 14 years at Google where he built products used by more than 3 billion people.

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