Friday, May 10, 2013

Perceptual Vigilance

I’ve had a couple of classes since I last posted.  We’ve been building on everything we’ve learned, practicing and in theory getting better. I’m finding that practice makes less bad.

One of the games we played and will eventually have to perform is called “Story Story Die”.  We stand in a semi-circle on stage, an audience member gives us a story title (like the “man in the ducts”) and then we start telling a story.  We have to tell the story in the same voice as each other and we can’t repeat what the last person says.  Oh and the instructor points to who speaks next.  You could get out two sentences or two words before it switches to someone else.  If you pause too long, repeat what was said, fumble, etc. – the audience can yell “die”.  You then die and slink off the stage while the remaining team members continue on. Repeat.  We’ve not done this in front of an audience yet…but nothing like failing while 75 people yell “die” at you.

There are 7 people in my class…7 folks who’ve never met each other, who are doing something that’s outside most of our comfort zones. We’re being asked to do ridiculous things and trying not to worry about looking like an idiot in front of each other.  The concept of trust has come up – in fact we’re going out drinking together to help build trust and gel better.  We also succeed and fail as a team – it’s not about one team member looking any better than the other.  

Since we’ve talked about trust and teamwork in class, it seems to be coming up all the time in my day job.  I have a friend that would call that Perceptual Vigilance (I could have named this article Trust – but that would have been boring).  Trust seems to be built (and lost) in the seemingly smaller decisions that are happening continually.  To build trust, you have to give trust. To do that you have to ensure that everyone feels ownership and as part of the success of the solution.

As product managers we’re ultimately responsible for the success/failure of the product.  As part of that ownership comes “great responsibility”.  In many cases we can override the recommendations of an area expert.  While in the moment those decisions feel like instinct – but in reality are based on knowledge of our customers. If we allow ourselves we can micromanage the product and the team.  One of the challenges I have – is when do you let go and share ownership. There can be more the one right answer.  At what point do you just let it go, let the team member’s decision stand and see what happens. It typically depends on the risk of the decision (which might not even be quantifiable).  But whichever route you go –if the outcome is less than ideal – the product manager still needs to take ownership of that decision.   I might not know when to let go – but I do know that we need to share in the ownership to instill trust and be overall more effective as a team.