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10 Common PM Intuition Traps

Published: April 09, 2016

Many situations in product development run counter to our intuitions. The nature of the work is constantly changing. Context morphs frequently. Our teams, organizations, competitors, and industries represent a dizzyingly complex system. What we think works, makes sense and feels efficient betrays us.

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The famous Katama weather rock …Awareness helps. But so does habitually putting yourself in mildly uncomfortable situations. The quest for consistency and repeatability is often our Achilles’s heel and serves as a blocker to growth.

Below I’ve listed ten common intuition traps in product development. What resonates? Disagree? Let’s have a conversation.

1 Stop trying to keep your team “busy”. Chasing high utilization is a recipe for catastrophic collapse. Encounter one unexpected setback, and the whole system crumbles. Instead, build in a safe level of slack to absorb the ebbs, flows, and hiccups. The snakes are invisible in knowledge work:

Watch out for the waiting snakes …2. Stop managing large planning inventories. Your goal is to invest time at the last responsible moment. What use is talking about something you’ll work on two months from now? The context will likely change, and that time spent planning will go wasted.

3. Stop attempting to “get ahead” of projects in small groups, without the whole team present. It rarely has the desired effect. End what you’ve been working on, pause, breath, and then tackle the next mission together. Build shared understanding collaboratively with the team. A well-oiled team can ramp up on a new challenge in a couple of days.

4. Stop believing estimates can help you plan. It’s easy to play three-dimensional chess with your initiatives: “If A will take a long time, then it is better to do C and D!” The reasoning is sound, but it rarely pans out. Often, you’ve failed to slice out the parts of A that will be truly valuable. Or, more commonly, this suggests a deeper issue with priorities.

5. Stop multitasking! Doing three things at once prevents the team from delivering value early, and rarely beats working serially.

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http://www.slideshare.net/JelenaFiodorova/teamwork-agile-way6. Stop saying “we might as well while we’re at it.” It is tempting to tackle less valuable work because it is convenient. If the team happens to be in that area of the code, we pile on the requests. Pause and ask what is stopping you from tackling your most valuable opportunity.

7. Stop finishing for the sake of finishing. If you’ve discovered your current effort will fail to drive value — especially considering the high costs of maintaining features — then just walk away. The sunk-cost bias is incredibly powerful.

8. Stop grouping work into large batches. Yes, they feel more comfortable and efficient because batches tend to incur a transaction cost. Think instead how you can lower the costs associated with delivering small batches (test automation, investing in DevOps, writing release notes, feature toggles, etc.) Large epics take on a life of their own and expand to fill the available space.

9. Stop forcing premature alignment/convergence. Creativity and diversity drive novelty, passion, and innovation. Pressuring the team to “be on the same page” can thwart the journey towards discovering the right page!

10. Stop trying to solve problems with process alone. It is tempting to believe that you can fix things with a slightly better process, tool, structure, or report. Or that things will transpire exactly how they’ve played out in the past. That’s rarely the case. It can be difficult to predict what will work in a rapidly changing environment. The alternate is to try what Dave Snowden calls “safe to fail probes”.

Safe-fail Probes are small-scale experiments that approach issues from different angles, in small and safe-to-fail ways, the intent of which is to approach issues in small, contained ways to allow emergent possibilities to become more visible. The emphasis, then, is not on ensuring success or avoiding failure, but in allowing ideas that are not useful to fail in small, contained and tolerable ways. The ideas that do produce observable benefits can then be adopted and amplified when the complex system has shown the appropriate response to its stimulus.This point is made hilariously clear in Snowden’s advice for planning a children’s party …