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Minute Monday 14: "Disagree and commit" is rarely a great outcome
Think back to a time when you’ve felt strongly about a product decision or initiative, but a peer in your team, maybe someone else in product, maybe a founder or another exec sees things differently and isn’t supportive.
You go back and forth, and eventually, someone says it.
“We need to disagree and commit!”
Many very successful organisations from Amazon to Netflix to GitLab to Intel have adopted ‘disagree and commit’ into their management principles, whether explicitly or implicitly.
The truth is that “Disagree and commit” is rarely a great outcome.
Too many times, in my experience, the “commit” is superficial and doesn’t translate into the same level of support, sponsorship and assistance that you’d otherwise get with everyone on the same page.
It’s better to find common ground and get true support for something every time.
So here are 4 things I try to think about whenever I’m in a situation where I feel strong pushback about a product decision or initiative.
Step into their shoes
Always try to step into the shoes of those with a different opinion and see things through their eyes. Unless you understand their perspective, it will be hard to have a reasoned discussion or tailor any argument around that perspective.
I’ve lost count of the times that doing this has lit up light bulbs in my head and shown me things I hadn’t considered.
With a deeper appreciation of where they are coming from, you may even come to agree with some of what they are saying, so be truly open to having your mind changed too.
Earlier in my career, I was far less open-minded, leading me to make worse decisions while p***ing off people around me.
Wherever possible, use data to support your argument. Whether that's behavioural data from your product, learnings from past experiments, user interviews, or case studies from other companies, you want to be able to draw on data to substantiate your position.
Irrational arguments that contradict data are usually short-lived.
Too often, product decisions are made inside-out. Flip the perspective and think user and customer first.
Ask yourself and each other what leads to the best outcome for our users and customers. Most times that will also be what's best for the business.
That said, it’s incredibly important for people to feel empowered to disagree during the decision-making process.
And sometimes, despite best efforts, you need to make a decision before an agreement is reached.
So disagree and commit.
But try to present the decision as an experiment since you’ll likely have much less resistance if it feels reversible if things don’t pan out.