Tuesday, January 04, 2011

How to Prevent Product Paralysis

Does your company suffer from product paralysis? Product paralysis occurs when progress halts on improving or innovating a product. At some point, you've probably experienced:
  1. A product team can't agree on major product decisions, so they concentrate on minor bug fixes and enhancements that have little or no market impact.
  2. Bold product decisions are made (often by members of the team that just happen to wield the most influence at the time), but the decisions come under fire and are put on hold shortly thereafter.
  3. Team members don't buy into product decisions, so they undermine them, stall their execution, or just aren't motivated to be productive in executing them.
The most effective product managers - to the extent that company executives empower them to do so - employ three approaches to prevent product paralysis:
  1. Base product decisions on market understanding and marketing principles. Teams will not buy in to major product decisions unless they can make a compelling case for them. It's hard to make a smart product decision without understanding the market and the principles of marketing (which are often counter-intuitive).
  2. Involve the team in making product decisions. In the authoritarian model of product management, a product manager becomes an expert on the market, gets input from development on the technical feasibility of implementing new features, and makes unilateral decisions. In the organic model of product management, a product manager leads the process of collective product decision-making and arms the team with the market information and marketing principles necessary to produce quality decisions. A product manager applying the organic approach uses change management and decision facilitation to foster buy-in and to motivate the team to execute.
  3. Iterate on the research and development of products. Product teams will make mistakes. They will never fully understand the impact of product decisions on their customers until the team at least partially executes and tests those decisions in the market. Thus the team will and should revisit decisions. An effective product team leader helps the team confront risks and uncertainty quickly and in a disciplined fashion. Frequent iterations provide a systematic way of learning and of evaluating and revisiting product decisions.
Thanks to Joshua Duncan for helping me to refine my thoughts on the organic model of product management.