Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and Bad Product Decisions (Part 4 – End)

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Part 4 – Dealing with FOMO Through Planning

In my last newsletter, I talked about doing a quick dive into data to validate a FOMO-based decision. There’s another way to ensure that you don’t fall into a FOMO decision situation in the first place – you plan for it.

How do you plan for a situation like this, considering that external forces beyond your control drive FOMO-based reactions?

Well, not all things are beyond your control, because businesses have patterns. Apple usually makes announcements about the next generation of iPhones and the latest version of iOS every September. The Consumer and Electronics Show always occurs just after the New Year in Las Vegas, where many companies make announcements. These are but two examples – I’m sure you can find more patterns out there, both from your company and your competitors. (Although, because of the current pandemic, this year might be an anomaly for the patterns.)

I always bring these known patterns up at my rolling-wave planning meetings with my teams. I ensure that we have some room budgeted in the high-level plan. By setting aside time for these cyclical events, the team can accommodate potential things that might come out of left field. It further allows the business to ensure that we don’t negatively affect our strategic goals for the long term. If we end up not utilizing the buffer we allocated, then we can quickly pick something off our strategic backlog, given that we do rolling-wave planning.

I hope this series on FOMO-based product decisions helps shed light on some strategies to minimize the occurrence. The world is continuously changing, so one cannot utterly discount the scenario.

If you encounter it, I wish I was successful in giving you ideas on how you can address it and see if it is the right decision. I have a few other ways to deal with this, so email or chat with me about if you’re interested in learning about them. I’m sure some of you have encountered it, and I would love to hear from you on how you addressed and dealt with your situation.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) And Bad Product Decisions

Part 3 – Dealing with FOMO Through Data

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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!