Combating the Recession by Simplifying Decision Making

David Pereira
Product Leader, Content Creator, Speaker

Four steps to make your life as a Product Leader easier

Do you know how many decisions you make a day? 

According to a study done at Cornell University, adults make around 35,000 conscious decisions daily. Most of the decisions go unnoticed by us, but some can be overwhelming. 

Once you decide to work as a Product Leader, this number will increase. Your life will be stressful until you learn how to be comfortable with decision-making.

The debate about going through a recession in 2023 is getting stronger and stronger. Yet, when you simplify decision-making, you can accelerate your progress and become more productive.

Step back for a second. Reflect on the decisions you’ve got to make as a Product Leader. Let me give you some examples:

  • Should you pursue or drop an opportunity?
  • When is your product ready for the market?
  • When should you copy competitors, and when should you differentiate?
  • Should you insert the idea into the backlog or discard it?
  • Should you say yes or no to a business request?

The list will keep piling up. You cannot escape the number of decisions you have to make, but you can simplify how you deal with them. 

Let me share how I approach decisions as a Product Leader.

1.  Differentiate decisions

Not all decisions are the same. I see people spending too much time on trivial issues. You’ve got to understand the impact of the decision you’re making.

It’s unwise to treat a five-dollar decision the same way you would a million-dollar one.

Think about the impact of your choice and then decide how much effort you should put into it. I know that can still be overwhelming, but I found my path with a two-way decision coined by Jeff Bezos.

Categorize your decisions into two types:

  • Reversible: If your choice turns out to be wrong, how easy would it be to revert or drop it? The easier that is, the less time you should invest in it. Focus on learning and progressing. That matters more than trying to avoid a problem you could quickly deal with. 
  • Irreversible: When you face decisions that are hard to revert, you need to invest the proper time into them, because you don’t want to be caught in a situation where you realize your choice was flawed and unchangeable. But it turns out, only a few decisions are truly irreversible.

For example, removing a costly feature used only by a handful of customers is reversible; selling your company to your competitor is something practically irreversible.

“Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow.” — Jeff Bezos

2. Know what you want to achieve

The stronger the economy is, the more funds you get for your initiatives. But with the looming threat of recession, you want to reduce waste to a minimum. You don’t want to be in a situation where you realize your choices won’t lead you where you want to be. That’s why it’s highly important that you know where your final destination is.

Making decisions isn’t exactly what overwhelms you. It’s the amount of choice you have that freezes you. The more choices you have, the slower you tend to decide.

The secret to decision-making is reducing the number of choices. The smaller the selection, the faster you can decide.

Let’s imagine you’re building a product to help people simplify how they organize their finances. Where would you start? Should you build an app or a web platform? Should you target retired people or those currently joining the job market? Should you finance everything on your own or pursue any funding?

These are just examples. My point is: 

If you don’t do your homework, decision-making will be a hassle. 

First, start by defining your ultimate goal.

You can create a product vision and ask how your action contributes to achieving it. If something doesn’t contribute to the goal, you shouldn’t even bother with it. 

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a clear vision. Otherwise, everything you face becomes a choice. You need to have a way of discarding as many options as possible.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” — Lewis Carroll

3. Create the boundaries

Once you learn to separate reversible from irreversible decisions and have a sharp vision, you will already feel relieved in decision-making. And you can take it a step further and make your life even easier by setting boundaries.

As a Product Leader, you don’t have to carry all the burden of decision-making on your shoulders. You can share that with people around you. To do that, you need to illustrate what a good decision looks like.

I love the Decision Stake framework created by Martin Erikson because it’s clear and easy to understand.

The Decision Stack Framework

I commonly see teams defining a vision, strategy, and objectives, but missing the principles. That is the glue that binds all other aspects together.

Imagine you’re in a B2B2C business model. A usual decision is which side you should prioritize. Believe me, you don’t want to keep having this discussion. Your decisions will be slower and more annoying. But when you set priorities—for example, customers even over sellers—you simplify your choices.

Principles shouldn’t be written on the wall but used daily to help teams accelerate decision-making.

The key is having enough principles to enable your team to make great choices connected to your objectives, strategy, and vision. Set a number of principles, say between 5–12. Don’t overcomplicate. Just start and learn by doing, not by talking abstractly.

If 2023 is what everyone says it is, you definitely don’t want your teams wasting their precious time discussing the same topics repeatedly. Help them know what to follow because that will accelerate progress and reduce friction.

4. Keep progressing instead of analyzing forever

Suppose you’ve gone through the three steps mentioned before. You’d be set to make decisions easier. You could boil down to a few choices, pick one, and progress. But which one should you pick? What if the decision turns out to be a bad one?

Even with a limited number of choices, our brains can trick us. Chances are you’re going to analyze the potential results of the available choices before picking one. 

Be careful. Analysis paralysis won’t help you progress.

In difficult times, resources are scarce. Venture capitalists aren’t funding many initiatives; you may struggle to get enough resources. Knowing how to keep progressing will help you increase your chances of thriving in a potential recession.

I love saying that a wrong decision is better than no decision. The longer you take to decide, the slower you can progress. Meanwhile, a bad decision will at least create learning that enables you to progress in a better direction.

The goal isn’t to make perfect decisions all the time. The goal is to keep progressing toward your vision as fast as possible.

You may wonder, “Does it mean I should make mistakes instead of investing time in analysis to avoid them?” Yes. The faster you fail, the quicker you can succeed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to blindly create features and release them to your whole audience just to learn it was a bad choice.

Making fast decisions must be combined with sound product management. For example, you doubt whether you should invest in solving a problem. Instead of discussing forever about it, you can apply product discovery techniques and keep progressing.

“Failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment.” — Jeff Bezos

Final Thoughts

The recession might be inevitable, and you won’t be able to change that, but you can play your best cards to win this challenge.

As a product professional, decision-making is a crucial skill you must develop to grow in your career. If that is frightening, you better learn how to deal with it, or your life will be stressful.

Progress is what motivates me. 

I’m comfortable with making mistakes and correcting them on the way. I’m uncomfortable with getting stuck in abstract discussions. That’s why I love simplifying decision-making for everyone around me.


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