How Product Managers Can Avoid Design by Committee

We have all heard of Design by Committee the most frustrating of situations where too many opinions need to be heard and too many egos spoil what could have been and excellent product or project. It is something that Product Managers must deal with as they work to get their product approved by the required executive channels.

The first step in getting past this in each product discovery effort is the identification of a trio of key people. These are the three people who will keep the product on point and moving in the right direction. The product development lead, the user experience lead and the product manager. It is imperative that they closely collaborate in order to in order to properly resolve issues in useful and new ways. Ultimately when they are working on gaining approval from upper management the product manager will be the one to take the lead. The product manager will bring forth the knowledge regarding the requirements of upper management alongside the responsibility of ensuring that the product still has value.

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The product manager must understand that they are the representative of the business owners, customer support, finance, legal, product marketing, sales and company executives. In many cases this means that they must be careful of entertaining any opinions outside of the product development process so that the the product development ideas do not  become a perpetual brainstorming session. It is never ideal for the product manager to allow for the project to be taken over by those who have agendas outside of the natural flow of business. For example a customer service manager might make suggestions that would ease the pressure on their agents knowing that suggestion might ultimately harm the product. It is crucial that the team remain as small as possible.

According to Gartner analysts: “The challenge of keeping track of what your staff knows and what they are really capable of has become considerably more complex. Organizations are more geographically dispersed than ever before and the trend is toward more virtual offices and transient teams.”

Innovation will not truly occur within the presence of a large group setting. This type of setting will do little more than create a situation where the product manager will be bouncing through a plethora of large and small decisions and discussions as progress is drastically slowed down. With a smaller non design by committee setting, you will be left in charge of a small, empowered and driven team that will be able to remain on track with all objectives, tasks and deadlines.

The true key of avoiding the pitfalls of design by committee is to keep the team empowered. Your team will need to feel and be empowered to properly represent stakeholders and make critical decisions. This does not result in the team having a blank check, decisions will need to be reviewed by various stakeholders with adjustments being made as they are necessary.

Gartner Analysts issue this warning: “Never underestimate the importance of ego in driving knowledge sharing.”

In order for the trio model to work outside of the committee setting, the team will need to be entrusted to give their very best effort as they keep the needs of the stakeholders in mind. It has been consistently proven that the utilization of a small group of motivated and talented people results in great and profitable products that are able to thoroughly satisfy stakeholders.

As companies grow, some executives believe that development teams need to grow as well. This is far from the truth. Avoiding design by committee is once instance where less is will truly deliver more.

Mark Silver
Mark is the Lead Author & Editor of Spectechular Blog. Mark established the Spectechular blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Product Management.
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