Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) And Bad Product Decisions

Part 3 – Dealing with FOMO Through Data

Social Media on Phone

My last newsletter  highlighted that FOMO-based decisions are typically driven by emotion. Most often, these decisions add on to the pile of work that people are currently handling, which then causes stress and frustration for people on the team. 

So how do you deal with these scenarios? How do you minimize stress and frustration that result from emotion-based decisions?

The first step is recognizing that emotion can be advantageous. You can examine it and start probing for the deeper reasons that trigger it. Understanding the trigger can help you determine various approaches you may take. 

One useful technique I employ is the 5 Whys technique.  Asking five successive probing questions allows me to get to the root cause as opposed to the outward symptom. I end up learning a few things that are not so apparent.

The second step is to decide on quick data points that may help you reframe and rethink the problem and decision. These data points help validate the decision under a more objective light. One needs just enough info to support and validate – or even change – the decision. 

For example, I found myself chatting with the VP about his wanting to assign a brand new project to a very senior engineer in our department. This new project wasn’t on anyone’s radar, and I had a gut feeling that this new addition would impact what we had already planned for the next quarter. I quickly ran some project queries on JIRA. I showed my executive a particular datapoint – the senior engineer was already on six different projects, all currently going on at the same time. We pored over the data and found out that two of the projects were stalled. The engineer and product manager had been waiting for a couple of months for vital input from the customer. (I was relatively new to the company and didn’t know this.) The customer had undergone a reorganization a couple of months back, and left the two projects in limbo, with no direction in sight for the near term. The engineer was still putting some effort into it based on discussions with the product manager. 

We continued to discuss the four remaining projects. We looked at the amount of effort needed against and the potential ROI. Three of the projects – when compared to this new project – weren’t that high in priority, after a brief chat between the executive and product manager. The executive then decided then to postpone the two projects in limbo, drop the three low ROI items. We all felt better about adding on the new, more impactful initiative in the end.

Notice that in recollecting the story, I introduced the third step – looking at the impact of decisions. In quickly reviewing the project data, and promptly asking more questions form the engineer and product manager, we were swiftly able to come to a decision that made sense. The data allowed us to look at impacts quickly to the current plans that were underway. We managed to streamline other projects in the process. 

Another way to minimize emotion-based decisions is to plan for them. I’ll go over the scenario and technique in my next newsletter. In the meantime, I hope I have provided you with some tips to help you reflect on past situations and see how you could have approached them. I would love to hear from you any insights or “Aha!” moments you want to share as a result of this newsletter topic.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and Bad Product Decisions (Part 2)

Part 2 – Drivers and Motivations

In my previous newsletter, I defined FOMO as the Fear of Missing Out when it applies to specific product decisions. I gave a couple of examples that I’ve heard from various product managers and executives over the years.

So what drives some of these decisions?

As a business, you’re always looking to differentiate yourself from the rest of the competition. You want to be seen as the leader in your space as opposed to a follower. I can understand how FOMO can undoubtedly spur and goad startups since they’re trying to survive and beat the 1-in-7 success odds for startup success. But for more established companies, gut decisions have a lot of risk, because they can negatively impact their current portfolio. They can derail the long term strategy that they driving towards.Group Selfie

In observing the motivation for these decisions, I have found that a lot of the drivers stem from emotion and gut reactions. The changing business landscape drives these decisions: 

  • a competitor making an announcement that requires a response from your sales and marketing teams
  • a key player in your space rolling out a new feature or update that you need to support
  • a marquee customer threatening your CEO to churn unless you deliver them a feature or resolve an issue they are immediately facing

Emotional and gut decisions do have a place and time. For a startup, gut decisions are the norm – it’s what most likely got them funded by VCs in the first place. But should gut decisions always be the norm for them?

When people make these decisions, I typically don’t see data and quick analysis. Most often, the use of data and analysis is superficial at best. Does the immediate commitment make sense for the current context? Is it worth doing right now? What are the possible impacts – both negative and positive – that could result? These questions are often not asked, or the answers not necessarily surfaced with the rest of the team. 

For both startups and established companies, are there ways in which you can remove the emotion from the decision? Can you make a better decision without caving into FOMO?

I’ll tackle the answers to these questions in my next newsletter. But for now, do you agree with some of my observations that I’ve listed out? Are there other motivations that you’ve come across? I would love to hear from you and hear about them!

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and Bad Product Decisions (Part 1)

Part 1 – What is FOMO?

Selfie PortraitFOMO – or the fear of missing out – as most people understand it today came about due to the rise of social media, where people would post these gorgeous travel destinations and experiences. These postings would arouse pangs of yearning from people on how life could be beautiful if they only were in those places or festivals. Nowadays, you see the same selfie shot done by everyone, of locales now overrun with the rise of tourists, all to get that FOMO-worthy shot.

FOMO, however, is not just a spawn of the viral rise of social media. It’s been here, all along in Silicon Valley, but it only manifests itself a little differently.

I recently had a conversation with an engineering executive at a well-established software firm that went this way. I had told him, after looking at all the project data, that there were too many projects in play.  We needed to start saying no to some of the items coming down the pipeline or postponing a few of the projects currently in development. We had to deliver something small before we could take on more projects. We had too many projects going, not enough people, resulting in not getting anything done on time.

The engineering executive was adamant. “We can’t do that,” he said. “We’re going to be left out and need to have all of these projects staffed and moving.”

There you go – he said it – FOMO – fear of missing out.

I’ve encountered a lot of FOMO in various forms working with different organizations. This fear – that the company will somehow miss something – is intense, especially with executives. It’s even more pervasive at startups, where they are madly trying to grab as much mindshare from the bleeding-edge early adopters who can make or break their startup, before other companies move in on their turf.

Here are other examples of FOMO:

“Oh no – our competitor just announced this new feature! Quick – we need to make a similar announcement, and get our engineers to start working on something right away.”

“Apple just announced they’re rolling out this new feature on the iPhone. It looks so cool! Let’s get a team to start work on it pronto, so we beat our competitors.”

Maybe you’ve heard something similar?

So how does one deal with this irrational FOMO? How can one help executives and managers make better decisions?

In my subsequent newsletters on this series about FOMO, I will go over what drives some of these decisions, and go through a few options that allow one to make better decisions.