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Product Management in a Time of Uncertainty

by Clifton Gilley  |  March 19, 2020  |  Submit a Comment

Product managers are used to operating in a climate of constant change. It is often the only constant upon which they can rely. Most change comes in fits and spurts, in predictable patterns, and with triggers which we can often see ahead of time. Most change allows us the opportunity to plan and strategize before acting.

However, sometimes change comes rapidly, hitting us square in the face when we least expect it. In these circumstances, the only thing that we can rely on is that we don’t have the time to stop and think strategically.  We must react to what is going on around us and take immediate actions for which we may not fully understand the consequences.

When this happens, it is the organizations who have baked agility into their culture who thrive the most. These organizations regularly accept unknowns, take risks, and use hypothesis-driven experimentation at the core of their product management efforts. Because this tolerance for uncertainty exists fundamentally in their core, they are better able to respond when faced with the unexpected.

Uncertain times are unnerving for product managers in companies with less baked-in tolerance for the unknown. It is these very circumstances, however, which give rise to great opportunities for product managers to innovate within a more constrained culture. While it is never easy to change an organization’s culture, small steps taken at the right time can have huge effects.

Here are a few things that product managers can do right now to capitalize on the uncertainty their company may be facing:

  • Engage directly with stakeholders to bring this uncertainty to the fore; it may be uncomfortable for some, but the more we talk about what scares us, the less scary it becomes.
  • Identify immediate opportunities to engage in thoughtful, data-driven decision making, rather than allowing rash, opinion-based decisions to rule; while you won’t ever have all the data you need, focusing on the data you have will improve outcomes.
  • Begin implementing hypothesis-driven experimentation with smaller, less directly impactful ideas or concepts; identifying the outcome that you expect before trying something reinforces the data-driven and discovery-driven mindset.

The more comfortable we as product managers can make our organizations with uncertainty, the better positioned the whole organization is poised to respond positively when the unexpected hits.

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Category: product-leadership-2  

Clifton Gilley
Sr Director Analyst
1 year at Gartner
21 years IT Industry

Clifton Gilley is an analyst with Gartner's Tech Product Manager team within the Technology and Service Providers research unit. Mr. Gilley's research deals with product management across various technology domains, with a special focus on digital product management and Agile product design and development principles. He joined Gartner in 2018. Read Full Bio

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