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How to speed up decision-making in a large team – this and other questions answered

Neil Joglekar
31st Jan 2018
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The new year always brings the same dilemma for any product team – annual or long-term roadmap planning. Every time I do this exercise, it reminds me of a quote from Jeff Bezos from this article by Bill Gurley:

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.

Most companies are built by solving a problem that will stay for at least the next 10 years

While it’s easy to build a roadmap chasing trends and fads, most companies have been built by solving a problem that they know will stay a problem for at least the next 10 years or longer.

In fact, BrowserStack is built on the premise that developers and companies will always want to deliver bug-free experiences for their customers. We take comfort in the fact that will never change, and it helps guide us.

Now, on to the questions. As always, we love getting more and more questions related to startups and startup life. Please send a question by emailing us at startupguy@yourstory.com:

Q: As my startup has grown, our decision-making for the product has slowed down. The team is bigger, there are more opinions, and we end up arguing in circles. How do we speed it back up?
Monica G. from Bengaluru
Image: Shutterstock
Separate the problem definition from the solution and answer questions like: what is the problem, and who is facing it

This is something that most companies struggle with as they begin to scale, and I generally recommend a three-step plan:

Define ownership

Identify the key decision makers in your product development process, write down their responsibilities, and make it visible to the team. A great framework to help you do this is the Pragmatic Marketing Framework, recommended to me by the original VP Product at Atlassian. It will help you think through and explicitly define ownership for all key types of decisions.

Just as important, once you define decision makers, hold them accountable to what they own. Nothing dissolves ownership faster than a lack of accountability. Paul Adams wrote a great post about how he handles this at Intercom.

Separate the problem definition from the solution

From my experience, teams waste the most time when they iterate so deeply on potential solutions that they lose sight of the original problem. The most straightforward solution that we use at BrowserStack is to separate the problem definition from the solution. In the problem definition, the team answers key questions like: what is the problem, who is facing the problem, and how do you measure success.

After agreeing on the problem, we move to the solution. The solution is proposed and iterated on by the entire team while keeping the problem statement in mind. This has allowed us to shorten our iteration time and deliver our releases faster – a major win!

Created a structured approval process

The last piece that ties all of this together is a clear approval process. Our most useful tool is a weekly product meeting to make key decisions. In this meeting, our product managers present the business case and solution for specific problems, and expect to be questioned by anyone in attendance (including the executive team). Yes, these discussions can be heated, but by making sure the meeting ends with a decision it ensures we are all aligned and ready to move forward together.

I am an engineer from Kerala, and make online video content for entertainment. My team of five members has created many scripts and we are looking for Malayalam audience. Our only channel is YouTube and we may get a limited number of followers. How do we get this going? 
Aby O from Kerala
See what people are already discussing, and create content which fuels that conversation

A question about online video distribution - a person after my own heart! My first company, ReelSurfer, tried to help content creators build communities and share viral videos.

Creating content that people want to watch is incredibly difficult, so the fact that you were able to build a team, and then produce content that SOMEBODY watches is impressive.

I have great respect for creative geniuses who can dream a script and turn it into widespread appeal. It’s similar to someone that will dream up a mobile app and have millions of downloads. I really can only think of a handful of people that can do that.

For us mere mortals, we have to think differently. Start with the distribution, and then work backwards towards the content you want to create. First, find the largest network of people who are hungry for Malayalam content and what topics they are most interested in. Then, take these communities and see what they are already discussing, and create content that fuels that conversation.

By doing that, you know there is at least a community that wants what you are going to make before you film it.

I am a 27-year-old BTech graduate from one of the Tier III colleges in India. I have a business idea for the chicken and meat market. How do I research if my product will be bought or not?
Ansh from Dehradun
startup-picture-idea
Sell a product before you create it to see what the customer response is

There are a lot of different methodologies you can use to research if your product would be bought or not, but I’d suggest one of two simple tests.

  1. Find a competing product and estimate its market size and the willingness of its customers to pay. Note: this won’t work if you have something completely new, but even then, you can find a product that at least addresses the same problem you are trying to solve.
  2. Trying selling your product now, before you create it, and see what the customer response is. Offer the product online, use AdWords to drive initial traffic, and see if people show enough interest to buy. Or, depending on your product, visit potential customers in person and attempt to sell. Nothing will give you better feedback then trying to sell someone the product you are going to create!

For example, while building Napwell, we were not sure if people would buy a sleeping mask that wakes them up with light. To test it out, we used Kickstarter, and ended up selling almost $50,000 worth of masks. That gave us enough confidence to manufacture the product at scale. This is especially important for a hardware product since manufacturing is so expensive up front.

Thanks for the great questions! Don’t forget to send us yours at startupguy@yourstory.com.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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