Stratelight #5: It's Ok to Say "I Don't Know"

Saying "No" Is Not Enough

As Product Manager you will often read how important it is to say "no" to stay focused, guard your team from building useless features and ultimately making you successful.

But saying "no" is not the only thing that's important when you are a Product Manager. When you want to create a safe space and show your team the respect they deserve, you have to be ok with saying "I don't know".

Saying "I don't know" doesn't make you a bad PM, it makes you an honest person and your team members will respect you for it.

Saying "I Don't Know" Opens Opportunities

When you say "I don't know" make sure to explain why you don't know and why it maybe is not important to know yet (in case of detailed specifications) or why you can't answer it yet.

Telling your team openly that you don't know opens up opportunities for your team to step up and fill the knowledge gap. It can bring your team closer to the customer and let them understand why and how it is important for the customer, thus enabling them to make the best decision.

The worst you can do is make a decision on a hunch because you are afraid of saying you don't know. This kind of decision often leads to wasted time and money by developing something which would have never been necessary.

Don't Make Decisions on Data Which Is Outdated Tomorrow

Another reason it's ok to say "I Don't Know" is that making decisions too early can mean when the decision becomes relevant the data you made it on is long outdated.

Jin Kato from MIT showed in his research that information in a development setting gets out of date at the rate of 6% a month.[1]

So foster an environment where it's ok to say "I don't know" and where people are eager to find out and fill the knowledge gap together when a decision is needed.

[1] Kato, J. (2005). Development of a process for continuous creation of lean value in product development organizations (Doctoral dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

🕵️For the full picture, read Why Product Managers Must Learn to say "I Don't Know" published in Mind the Product by Stanislaw Plebanek.

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- Markus