Product Tips
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Product Tips

4 Easy Steps to Manage through Ambiguity

By Jo Anna Takla, Associate Director, Devbridge (a Cognizant Softvision company)

Advice To Become a Successful Product Manager

Do you struggle with ambiguity? Does the uncertainty and lack of structure around work ever make you feel paralyzed? If yes, then you’ll be relieved to learn that there are some small steps you can take to free yourself from the bonds of ambiguity.

As product leaders, we often struggle with ambiguity. There’s never enough information from our customers, competitors, or key stakeholders to make the best decisions. In my first role as a product manager, I was thrown into a sea of ambiguity. I was, however, blessed with the opportunity to lead a team that would re-imagine one of the company’s largest technology platforms–a platform that would touch over 18+ companies and millions of customers. Not only was my team the first to create one of these types of platforms, but they were also a happy, empowered, agile team.

I was a rock star strategist, but here’s a little secret… I had no idea what I was doing. I was new to product management, new to technology, and new to this type of platform. At one point, I even asked someone to explain API to me. Imposter Syndrome began to creep in, but I didn’t let that stop me. I planned my way to success.

Types of Ambiguity

Now that you’re ready to manage through ambiguity, let’s start with identifying a few types of ambiguity that you may encounter:

A. Personal ambiguity. These are things you don’t know how to do, but others do. For example, a PM or Designer-specific skill set. It may seem like you’ll never “be like’’ someone else, but everyone builds their skills over time.

B. Situations with multiple possible outcomes. For example, choosing different website experiences for your users. Each website experience may have different outcomes, but there is only a set number of outcome possibilities.

C. Complete uncertainty. For example, a brand-new product in an undefined market space (Uber before it was Uber). As a product leader, you might not even know who the “right” customer is. This leads to high levels of ambiguity.

The Steps

Now that you understand the type of ambiguity you are in, here are four easy steps to managing through ambiguity:

1. LEAN INTO A GROWTH MINDSET. Feel empowered to say, “I don’t know, but I will push myself to learn.” It’s okay not to have all the answers. Get excited about the challenge rather than flustered by the uncertainty.

2. FRAME THE PROBLEM. What are you trying to solve? Why are you struggling with this question? If necessary, break down the problem into small pieces. Recognize the type of ambiguity you’re struggling with. This will help you plan next steps.

3. COMMUNICATE. Communicate to your managers, to mentors, and to others you trust. Seek their advice for how to approach the problem you’ve just framed out. Often others around you have approached the same problem and can advise you on next steps.

4. CREATE A PLAN. Define an action-oriented and specific plan. Utilize various decision-making frameworks. Depending on the level of ambiguity, this could include prioritization of frameworks, hypothesis testing through prototyping, or A/B testing. Don’t worry if your plan isn’t perfect, sometimes it’s more important to just get started.

Every new job or product will have ambiguity, but self-awareness, hard work, and creating a plan will lead to success. Learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and ambiguity will no longer be a challenge.

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