Motion and action in product management

“Move fast and break things” has confused the mind of new product managers for more than a decade. It’s common to hear Product Managers rush to “launch and (A/B) test things” as if it’s the only way to test an idea. Rushing to try something is a major source of wasted effort. As a product owner, your objective is not to run towards a decision; it’s to maximize the chances of getting to the right decision.

Diagram of motion before action
Action and motion before objective

There are two phases at the core of every attempt, whether you’re trying to launch a new product or climb Everest - motion and action.

Motion is the planning and strategizing around the objective. For a new product, it will be talking to prospective customers, pen and paper product discovery, or spending time thinking about the product. For Mount Everest, it’s planning the itinerary, buying the equipment, or even the lengthy training required to be physically fit to climb.

Action is what leads to the result. Applied to a new product, it’s building and launching the product, analyzing the results. For Mount Everest, you’ve guessed it, is the actual climb and, if you’re lucky, reaching the top.

In a Lean Startup/MVP obsessed world, it’s incorrectly all about action. Few managers will reward a well-thought-out product spec or thorough customer interviews. I don’t know any people that have their names on Wikipedia for preparing a trip to Everest without actually completing it…

But beware of selection bias. Without motion, you run the risk of failure in front of challenges you’re not prepared to tackle. The tragic deaths of adventurers on Mount Everest remind us that many didn’t take the difficulties ahead seriously. Similarly, features and products fail when a few minutes of work would have proven that the idea wasn’t going to work in the first place.

Fast iterations explained fast motion followed by action
Fast iterations in product management

The question remains - what’s the right amount of time spent in motion (or preparation) before springing into action? My advice is simple, no matter how tempted you are to start, the minimum time spent in motion is the time it takes to do a thorough risk analysis. The reason for that is simple; the risk analysis will give you the confidence level of succeeding. It’ll give you a chance to anticipate which obstacles you may encounter and allow you to decide how prepared you want to be. Lastly, the risk analysis is critical to sizing the expected return on investment [ROI] (or return on risk [ROR] for Everest), which good product managers should know.

Productivity and self-improvement books focusing on pushing towards action are not entirely incorrect; motion can be a trap. It’s easy to recognize it in our daily lives, see friends who, for example, are passionate about cycling but spend more time buying gear than on the bike. No matter how biased towards action you feel, you cannot neglect preparation. Instead, be focused on minimizing the time you take to do your risk analysis. It’s a skill that gets better and faster over time.

We’ll talk more about the “right-sized effort” to make decisions in a future post.

PS: That friend with all the bike gear, it’s me.

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