TBM 9/52: Coherence & Uncertainty

A simple idea for this week's post.

To make progress in product development we often need to:

  • Introduce artificial constraints

  • Agree to proceed with incomplete information

  • "Cut corners" and do work we're not 100% proud of

  • Suspend critique (and even disbelief/pushback)

The challenge I see is that teams are not intentional when they make these decisions. They don't understand each other.

For example, a product manager proposes an "MVP" for a new workflow. The team cuts all kinds of corners and leaves a lot of loose ends. And then the product manager up and decides to move on. "It is good enough I figure!" That wasn't what the team signed up for. They thought this was an experiment to test a set of assumptions, not an excuse to move fast.

Resentment grows. Trust drops.

An example of a healthier approach involved a team I worked on. We realized that to make progress, we needed to suspend almost all of our questions. But we detailed them, and revisited those questions/concerns weekly to figure out what to tackle next. As the effort progressed, the team decided that to move forward we NEEDED to answer a question, or at least come up with a better answer. So we put the brakes on to do that.

The key is being intentional.

  • Catalog and visualize cut corners

  • List enabling constraints

  • Set reminders to revisit certain decisions

  • Use clear language not jargon (e.g. MVP)

  • Detail assumptions and experiment

  • Keep a decision log

  • Keep working agreements

  • Get specific about drivers, constraints, and floats

That's it for this week. Again, something so simple, but often overlooked. Solving complex problems involves a lot of dancing with uncertainty. To do that as a team, you need shared language and some discipline. The alternative is pretending everything is fine, and just building to spec. And we know how that goes.