Would you rather avoid a Tiger or a Squid?

A Product Manager’s lesson about assumptions

One of my colleagues had a picture of a Tiger on his laptop screen. I am mentioning this because it's the only recollection of how the following conversation came about.

Somehow, this picture sparked an argument about what we would rather avoid, a Tiger or a Squid. Not your typical scenario, but we give it a bash. My colleague has a very loud voice, so sure enough the entirety of our relatively small office was now part of the conversation. I went over to the development team and asked them:

“Who would you rather not confront, a Tiger or a Squid?”

I thought the answer was obvious. There was no doubt in my mind that the dev team would avoid the Tiger. Right?

Nope…

Rather than a simple yes or no, I was instead bombarded with a series of questions.

  • What environment are we in?
  • Is the Squid hostile?
  • Is the Tiger hungry?
  • Are we in water?
  • How deep is the water?
  • How far away is the Squid?
  • Can the Squid ink you?
  • What kind of Tiger is it?
  • Do I have any defensive weapons?
  • Has the Squid already sunk the pirate ship?

C’mon, really? A pirate ship?! This was certainly unexpected, but I proceeded to humor the questions. What I didn’t realise was the underlying message that the dev team was trying to poke fun at.

Probably harmless

One of developers pointed out, that although the answer may seem relatively straightforward, everything is not so black and white. That the answer depends on the type of environment, available resource and status of the potential threat. “What if the Tiger has just eaten? What if the Squid is not in water?”. He said this applies to all of our products and associated features. That assumptions can be dangerous and are not always as clean cut as they may initially appear.

This is my biggest lesson in Product Management to date.

After being in a PM role for nearly two years, that was my biggest lesson. It was always my job to test scenarios, and that the obvious answer is not always the best, but this was the first time I’d realised the true risk of assumptions. That a great PM should avoid assumptions and constantly be testing those already established.

Seriously though, in pretty much any given scenario (other than deep ocean) I’d rather avoid a Tiger.