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Short post today on a concept that I think many PMs don’t grasp: good product management is all about choosing the “right” product paths, but “right” is only obvious in hindsight.
I was reminded of this via a visual I found on Twitter recently.
Basically, where are you now is a function of the choices you’ve made in the past, but fixating on the prior roads not taken is pointless, because there’s no wishing your way into a different past…but, many, many choices remain to be made, and that’s where you should focus your energy.
Here is my attempt to redraw this with a PM framing:
How can you apply this to your product craft?
Original Opportunity: you can get so caught up in the decision paths you’re currently facing that you forget about the original customer problem you were trying to solve - does it still exist and how has it evolved?
Lifecycle Phase: the reason for evaluating future branches (i.e. product paths) can vary based on what stage (starting, scaling, sustaining) your product is at, and keeping that in mind can help you find the most efficient path to the next iteration
Sunset Stage: if you don’t see any good paths ahead, or they all seem inconsequential, your product may have plateaued
Discovery Work: sometimes you don’t know if or how far you want to go down a path, and discovery (vs delivery) work is how you gauge that - building product is the most expensive way to discovery by the way, and cheaper alternatives include prototyping, wireframing, and handwaving
Just-in-Time Decisioning: just because you started going down a path doesn’t mean you have to double down - backtracking is an option if you learn along the way that you took a sub-optimal path, and while there is a short-term cost to unwinding, it can be cheaper than long-term commitment to the wrong route
Layering Choices: it’s a fallacy to think of every decision as an independent one; they all compound, and a series of good ones have a multiplicative effect and a series of bad ones create a drag on a product team
Debt Paydown: if you’ve made a series of “bad” choices and have accrued product debt, you have to take a beat, pause, and clean up vs continuing to throw good money after bad
As always, I’d also love to hear from readers on their product decisioning - please chime in via comments👇. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing.
further reading / references
this visual on life paths open to you vs life paths closed to you really resonated with me and was the inspiration for this post
The 3 S’s of the Product Lifecycle talks about how a portfolio can be a blend
CXBR: The Other Amazon Bar Raiser is a war story from my Amazon days that shows how you can always make tweaks to previously committed decisions
The Power of Layering Product Choices covers the value of planning multiple decisions ahead vs taking 1 branch at a time
Another way to think about paths make sense for your product is the idea of Product Market Flex
If you go down a path and can’t / won’t backtrack due to a sunk cost fallacy, you might be in a Strategy Spiral
If you’ve been going down a wrong series of branches and want to unwind those decisions and start over, check out Debt Relief for Product Teams
Disoriented Teams are ones that don’t know it’s time to sunset their product and stop evaluating paths
Every Decision Ever goes through how to actually communicate and execute once you’ve chosen your next product path
childish drawing / interpretation