September 2023

How can you embrace uncertainty when delivering products at pace?

We believe that shipping products quickly is the best way to learn, iterate and move ahead. But how can leaders embrace uncertainty?

At Loomery, we believe that shipping products quickly and frequently is the best way to learn, iterate and move ahead. But how can leaders embrace uncertainty surrounding delivery? To answer this question, we wanted to bring together leaders in this space to share their stories and knowledge to help teams make smarter decisions. 

Our event was about taking ‘bets’ on product decisions, big or small, and dealing with uncertainty. A writer who has thought a lot about this topic is Annie Duke, a professional poker player, and the author of Thinking in Bets. Her book delves into how people make decisions and suggests we should think of every decision as a bet.

This theory is particularly relevant to how we think about digital products. It helps to see decisions as bets; whether deciding what product to build or what feature to add. Of course, we can never be certain about the outcome of a decision, due to limited information and the impact of luck, so instead we should consider the probability of that product or feature succeeding. If every decision is a bet, we need to embrace uncertainty and get specific about the things that we don't know. Just by naming the bet, you’ll be ahead of 90% of others.

To discuss this topic in more detail, we invited Emma Smith, Director of Transformation at University of Bath and Rosie Snow, Director of Product at Sky to be part of the discussion and share their stories. 

Never assume to assume

Often we make decisions based on gut instinct but it's important to go a step further: undertake research into your users, understand their pain points, test your ideas with them and validate your solutions. Have a complete understanding of the market and your competitors. Don’t just assume. 

Emma talked about conducting small scale pilots, testing and learning to help make decisions, which she believes has always paid off. Rosie also talked about testing to create evidence in order to win the hearts and minds of a very data drive organisation. As Annie Duke mentions in her book, you can improve the quality of all decisions by increasing the accuracy of our beliefs and assumptions by weighing the investment vs expected value. 

Start with the north star 

Both Emma and Rosie talked about starting with a ‘north star’ vision and working backwards from there. Visualising the north, or even better, creating a prototype, can help get teams behind products, removing the ambiguity, which is really important. Working backwards from this point allows teams to think about what needs to be proven to realise that vision and get to that point. It allows people to build the same picture in their minds, so that everything is joined-up and everyone is aligned. 

Then you need to get the vision out there and sell it, gathering feedback (both positive and negative) that people have in response to it. Rosie said she learned this the hard way, seeing a big bet for a previous company fail due to not having a vision visualised, and not getting anything out there to learn from.

Show, don’t tell

Emma shared her experience in higher education, taking small problems and opportunities at the University of Bath, and looking at how digital can really help. By undertaking discoveries and figuring out the art of the possible, teams are able to show stakeholders what digital can do, changing mindsets and building support for further investment in digital. Of course, these pilots are not all going to be successful. Indeed, her pilot-based approach is itself a bet within the context of a cautious, business-case-based institution.

Rosie added that it’s helpful being transparent about the insights that inform a bet, so you can go back and critique it. Using research, pilots or in-house expertise to inform bets reduces the risk of wasting time, energy and resources.

So how do you decide how big a bet should be?

Emma talked about the impact of making a bet versus the risk of not taking it. She advocated plotting the potential impact of a bet as compared to the likely outcome of not taking it - that can really help you see what is at stake and decide how big to go with your bet. 

To find out more, watch the full recording here:

If you want to find out how we have used this approach with some of our clients including University of Exeter and Naked Wines, then please get in touch below.

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