For a long time, I found it difficult to find a balance between letting people make mistakes and learn vs deciding based on task-relevant maturity. Example. You have a junior PM who just joined you post his MBA. Do you let her take all the decisions or do you scale her scope of work and decision-making power based on task-relevant maturity? If you do the first she might make some silly mistake; forget to figure out some edgecase due to lack of experience and the customer might suffer. I am sure you would not want your customers to suffer due to the lack of experience of someone. But you might also not have the luxury to do the second: wait for someone to gain experience. Startups are hard and you can’t become the bottleneck for day to day decision making.
After a lot of experiments, trying out new processes and frameworks, here is what I think has finally worked for me:
- Having a uniform playbook for each stream.
- Following simple frameworks like internal then external.
- Asking my PMs to own any decision that they can defend in a public forum. If the CEO tagged them on a thread, will they be able to come up with a suitable reply? If they are unsure and want me to own the decision instead, I ask them to DM me for alignment. I also get me to the DACI table as the decider. Why should someone take the blame for my decisions? Why this works: It is publicly clear who owns the decision; people don’t feel that their boss is making all the decisions and they are just executing.
- Asking PMs to state the principles they used before taking the decision.
- Having a culture of writing.
- Writing RCAs for any project which gets delayed. Making sure we don’t repeat the mistakes we made.
- Identifying risks early. If you can have a list of potential risks that might derail your project one month down the line, you can figure out ways to mitigate those risks.
- Knowing that there is a credibility battery like a trust battery. Every good decision you make, every feature you ship, every good meeting you run, your credibility battery gets charged. Every public screwup because of lack of effort or gaps in your understanding of your product or customers discharges it. Keep your charge high.
- Transparency also helps: Anyone who has ever worked with me knows that they will never have to guess what I am thinking. And I do what I say. And I also regularly remind people of this. It has helped us to be honest with each other and build trust.
- Having the back of your people. I am quick to criticize if people are not pulling their weight, but I will defend someone if I believe they did the right thing. As a manager, your reports have to trust you. Else they will mostly be trying to hide from blame than taking ownership of projects and close decisions fast.
- Peer reviews for specs. Just like code reviews, we do peer reviews in my org. The reviewer just asks the most fundamental questions: Why have we picked this project to work on? How are we measuring success?
- We align on the WHY, then scope out the WHAT and then jointly work with Design and Engineering on the HOW. Sometimes we loop in Engineering and Design even in the WHY stage. I have seen people work months on developing a feature that the CEO vetoes before it goes to production. I consider it my failure if it ever happens to one of my projects. Without knowing the WHY and then having second thoughts one day before release, I won’t even green light a project.
- Setting clear expectations: Most people hedge their words because they are more worried about saving their backs than taking a stand. Want to ship an MVP fast without caring if a few edge cases are not handled properly? Call it out. Want people to push themselves because there is a P0 project which needs delivery in 2 weeks? Tell that.
- Having a DACI table helps.
- Having a good relationship with peers help. People help those they like. You will have a harder time to align people who don’t like you vs someone who had a good experience working with you earlier.
- Avoid private DMs for making final decisions. Be comfortable sharing decisions in public slack channels.
- It is all about taking ownership. Hire people who take ownership of their work and they will not shy away from making decisions and unblocking others.
- Have more 1-1s.
- Have a staff meeting every week for cross team collaboration.
- Agree on your report’s priorities for the week on Monday itself. I have 1-1 with all my reports on Monday to kick off the week.
Related read: On making good decisions