The power of ‘stop’
Do you see product and research teams stuck in the mindset of “let’s keep going”, when sometimes it was better to stop? Perhaps you might have experienced it? Why does this happen?
I get it. These teams are often under pressure to deliver results and show they’re adding value.
But, recognising when to ‘stop’ can be a correct and powerful thing to do. Keep going can be more costly and detrimental to the business and customers in the long term.
The sunk cost fallacy
Economists talk about the sunk cost fallacy in decisions making. You end up putting (more and more) money and resources into something when you can’t recover the costs. Since you’ve already invested a lot it becomes difficult to stop or change course, even if it was the right thing to do. So, you keep going…
I’m sharing some justifications (read myths) I heard from teams on why we keep going and contribute to the sunk cost….
Myth 1: “We have to conduct user research on X first!”
Stop! This is not true. We don’t always have to do user research before making a decision. User Research teams can find themselves stuck in a hard place sometimes. At first, trying to get other teams to notice you exist, so you take up any research studies. And once there’s momentum you want to prioritise studies that deliver impact.
But, sometimes we may already have existing insights that you can make decisions from. We can also refer to other data points within the organisation to make a decision.
When teams say this, I think is a confidence issue. A re-framing question to ask is: “Do we have enough information today to help us make a decision on X confidently? Why not?”
Myth 2: “Oh, we just haven’t found the (right) user problems yet”
This justification is tricky! Your team might have finished a big discovery research project. And learnt that users are not experiencing big problems. Or that you haven’t spotted new business opportunities. And feel the need to keep looking…
Stop! Actually, your big insight is here! Here it is: people are happy with what they have and you don’t need to re-invent what’s out there in the market.
This has happened to me twice. Having the courage to tell the team that something is not worth pushing forward is a brave thing to do. It shows the user research process worked! You understood your (potential) users well and saved time and money.
But this tension between solving for user problems and growing a business won’t stop. Whether that’s increasing user-base (acquisition), revenue or product-offerings. So again, User Research teams are stuck in a hard place.
This is what I will say: spending money on products and features that don’t solve customer problems? Stop!
Myth 3: “We don’t have time to think about it, we need to deliver this today!”
This usually isn’t about timeline but whether you’re delivering for the right outcomes. There is no point in rushing to meet a timeline if it doesn’t solve customer problems, or make the customer experience worse!
A good approach is to examine if it is a joined-up approach across the company. Would launching this [product/feature/campaign] give the whole business a positive impact? I observed teams who delivered positive impact for one part of the business. Only to realise later on that they have created extra workload for other teams.
Stop and engage with the relevant teams. Make sure you’re all agreeing to the same business outcomes, rather than rushing.
How do we minimise sunk cost?
- Have open and frank discussions on assumptions that the team holds. For example, where is the time pressure coming from? What is making the team feel uncomfortable about reaching a decision?
- Assess if you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. This may be when continuing means more time and effort spent for minimal return and/or business impact.
- Over-communicate what user research can and can’t do for product teams. There are some questions user research cannot answer, like willingness to pay. But other disciplines can.
- Have joined- up conversations with other disciplines and teams. Improving one business metric, might create headaches for others.
What other myths have you experienced? What tactics do you use to stop?