Apr 24, 2023

Ambiguity & Decision Making

Ambiguity & Decision Making
Navigating ambiguity can be one of the toughest parts of making product decisions.

The sense of ambiguity is often more intense in startups, where there is a new problem space or niche to explore, no users or customers, no strategy in place, and fewer people on the team to speak with. If you are a product person in a startup, you are probably on your own, and you might feel a bit anxious when facing ambiguity.

It's okay to feel anxious. Everyone experiences this.

As an ex-software engineer, I used to struggle to deal with ambiguity when I switched to product management. I remember my boss asking my thoughts about the product's future and my vision. I couldn’t answer the question. I said, "I have no idea; I can’t predict the future. And if I tried, I’d be lying to you". And today, I start with the vision, even if it’s distant and blurry, and then write up my best-guess strategy to get started and make quick, fast decisions that can validate (or invalidate) it.

Most product decisions are like bets; you might win or lose. You can significantly de-risk them by doing research, analysis, and testing. But you’ll only know when you put your product out there and let the customer decide. So the key is to balance science and art and aim to keep your experiments cheap to launch and analyse.

I keep a decision log, and it helps me realise that I overestimate the potential negative impact of my decisions. I tend to assume the chance of something terrible happening is really high. Months later, when I look through my notes, I realise the judgement of probability and impact is way off.

Keeping track of your decisions is a good tool to assess your thinking and judgement. But also, once you write out your decision, you can find closure. Once you have closure, you can move on.

To effectively handle uncertainty in decision-making, understanding the SCQA can be very beneficial.
About Max Antonov
Head of Product @ Backpocket and a Product Coach. I write about product management and random topics that are on my mind. You can find me on Twitter, Substack, LinkedIn or Goodreads