tl;dr: Successful teams and companies can strike a harmonious balance between inclusiveness and clarity in decision-making. Most unnecessarily over-index one over the other, while those that fail don’t index any of these aspects at all.
Recently, I had great PM conversations with two people at Dropbox: Mindy Zhang (GPM @ Premium Org) and my manager, David Mann (Director Product @ Workspaces Org). We spoke of the following:
What I’ve learned through practice, is that all three of these focus areas can be enhanced by this notion Mindy illustrates as: the decision matrix. It by no means is a holistic answer to the above three questions, but simply one piece of the puzzle to enable success. It encompasses the following two components:
Over-indexing one or the other is not to the benefit of the recipient in question; the best individuals and teams out there can balance between the two. Further defining inclusion specifically, it is important to know who, what, when, where, why and how to involve someone or group(s) in decisions. There are only two ways it can go:
Without calling out companies today, there are many that are considered very inclusive and others very decisive, or both. However, there can be a case made that the inclusiveness and clarity combination-potential of teams can be exponentially correlated to the headcount size of companies:
Each end of the curve has its differing returns - on one hand, it's very easy for startups with less employees to be agile with faster iterations in order to ship new products to achieve PMF (product market fit). This is possible because there are less buy-ins from stakeholders required to achieve a consensus decision, and ostensibly, the decision is more “decisive” by default.
The difficulty begins as startups grow and add headcount. More people means more potential buy-ins from different internal teams required. For anyone (not only PMs), it is common to run into the dilemma of deciding between:
1’s consensus-driven approach carries the cost of slothy developments through indecisiveness (often risking no progression at all), while 2’s “better done than perfect” and often individualistic attitude usually comes at the cost of building best long-term relationships with teams (and sometimes with individuals – a form of selfish desire).
There is a world where the harmony between clarity and inclusiveness can be met. Whether the order of magnitude is large or small, having each value directionally in the positive quadrant (referring to the decision matrix above) is achievable (as is in smaller startups) — it can be done through strong leadership character, often required in higher management positions. At the IC (individual contributor) level, it can be done by building influence and trust with many teams (and/or also getting a higher manager/executive to back you up).
Though, there can be some nuances in between lines here; the decision matrix often is heavily influenced by company cultures (common black and white comparisons include cut-throat cultures, thereby aggressive/decisive v. consensus-driven cultures, thereby inclusive/unanimous). Adapting to how cultures operate and therefore steering how you align against the decision matrix, can help boost your career development, even if it may not be in the best interest of the overall business.
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While reading this, be mindful these observations are subjective to my opinion and by no means fact. As a PM, it is important to be cognizant of this matrix, because I believe it’s one of the most important, if not the most important, enabler to turning you into an effective and impactful leader.
I have had my fair share of failures as a consequence of loosely prioritizing this framework, and it's a challenge to fix the past and better to apply this concept moving forward. Don't miss out on the opportunity!
I'm a tech investor @ Obvious.com. I was formerly a Product Manager @ Dropbox and Uber, & studied CS at Stanford. I also write on Medium.
Ping me daniel@ obvious.com, or follow @dcliem!