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Product decisions as doors


One of the main responsibilities of a product manager is to make decisions. Some decisions will define their product success, but not all. What are different types of decisions and how should you approach them?

We make tons of decisions in our daily personal and professional lives. Some of those decisions we take instinctively and quickly, others require elaborate thinking and analysis. One of the main mistakes we all make is to spend too much time deciding on something small and reversible while not giving enough time and effort for decisions that could have major consequences that we can't roll back.

Let's take product management as an example. We have a full range of decisions to make when we build our products. How should we name our product? How much should it cost? Do we need an API? What security requirements should it fulfil? What colour should be the main call to action?
These and literally thousands of other decisions we need to take every day as PMs. At times it could feel overwhelming and even paralysing. Yes, we should be experts in our products and markets, but we can't possibly know everything. Yes, we can delegate some decisions to our teams, but that still leaves us with a massive pile of decisions to make.

We also shouldn't forget about the urgency. Many decisions require our immediate attention as they could be blocking our team or affecting our delivery timeline. So how do we approach decision-making so it's timely and helps us make more right decisions than wrong?

Decisions as doors

This concept comes from the "Working Backwards" book by Colin Bryar. There are tons of useful tips in this book but one concept that stuck with me the most is this - decisions as doors.

Imagine a typical wooden door without a lock. Usually, it is so easy to open or close it, to move in and out. Yes, you need to figure out if it opens inside or outside but that usually takes a second and then you're a master of it.

What is easier than a wooden door? An automatic one. It opens and closes on its own, you don't even need to do anything. Just walk right up and it will open.

On the other hand, you have a gate. Say it's a metal one, heavy, and might be with an old rusty lock. Now those things are somehow tricky to figure out, might require some prior knowledge or preparation. When you finally handle the lock, it could stuck and then you might need some help to open it. Definitely, you don't want to use an old, heavy gate with a broken lock too often. If it's in your way, you want to deal with it once and hopefully forever.

Let's go extreme - a castle entrance. Yeah, these massive doors with a suspension bridge over a moat. Did you ever wonder what it takes to operate them? That's a huge effort for lots of people. Not once an enemy has infiltrated a castle just because it takes so long to close the gate.

Now when you are presented with a decision - think about what type of door it reminds you. Is it something minor, easy to reverse and change your mind about? Then it's probably an automated door and you shouldn't spend your time thinking about it, just enter.

If it's more like a wooden door, then maybe spend a bit of time and effort. Think about what it will take you to go back through that door. Do you mind doing it? If not - go ahead and make that decision. If this door has a lock - that is usually a sign that you need to collect more data, understand the mechanics a bit. Acquiring a key will make that decision simple for you.

You need to be careful with gates as you might think you can operate them on your own but in reality, you might require help. Moreover, some gates, especially old ones, are fragile and could easily stuck not letting you through. Spend more time analysing how the particular gates work as you might enter but it will be difficult to leave.

Castle doors should be surely handled by a collective. They are too complex and important. Leave them open when you shouldn't and your castle will be captured or even worse, razed to the ground. You need to study the castle gates extensively, you must collect undisputed evidence before operating your castle doors.

Mistakes we make around doors

  • Standing in front of a presumably locked door without actually checking if it's locked
  • Trying to open a gate a bit and squeeze through
  • Not recognising there is a glass sliding door and bumping into it
  • Watching Game of Thrones and thinking we are experts in castles now

If you want to read a less cheesy version of this - I strongly recommend "Working Backwards". But for those of us who think visually - doors are a good analogy. Maybe next time you have a pile of decisions to make you will see them as doors to better outcomes.

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