Thin Slicing and Product Decisions

Wait before you build that product

The expression “thin slicing” was coined in a 1992 article in the Psychological Bulletin. It describes people’s ability to detect patterns in an event even if they experience only a narrow portion of that event. People who watched a series of brief, silent videos of a teacher reached similar judgments about the teacher as did students who sat through the teacher’s class for months. The study has been widely cited as an example of the power of our unconscious system. What happens when we apply this methodology to product decisions? Turns out, your company’s revenue growth may stall.

Let’s look at a plausible scenario. Maybe growth has stalled in your core market. Competitors are bigger and more aggressive. COVID-19 has hurt renewal rates in an outsize way. So what’s a product manager to do? To stay ahead, we simultaneously execute on (a) defending the core, and (b) expanding rapidly into new markets. Maybe the company’s management team emerged from the retreat with 5 commandments of collaboration. Or your manager was on the strategy project (“Spock”) and reached some expansion decisions. After some investigation, as a product owner, you’re ready to make some decisions about product design and development.

Should you get started with building the product? Wait.

Gartner surveyed product managers in growing companies vs non-growth companies. The most significant differences in approaches are that growth company product managers validate product ideas externally before committing to them, including the following:

■ Market sizing (“What is our total addressable market?”)
■ Problem validation with customers (“Does the problem we try to solve matter enough?”)
■ Solution validation with customers (“Is our product a viable solution to the problem?”)
■ High-level development/engineering sizing/estimation (i.e., “How long will this take to build?”)
■ Light prototyping (“How could our product work and look like in practice?”)

These growth-oriented product managers engage with engineering, reach out directly to customers, and go the extra mile to understand the market opportunity. So, take a step back before starting to build. Your company might just thank you for it when growth rates rise, customers click, and internal staffers smile.

Photo by Justus Hinz on Unsplash

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