Updated: Aug 15, 2022
The quality of being open to more than one interpretation
This is the dictionary definition of ambiguity. And I love it. Particularly, the use of the word “quality”; it is an attribute — something you can be skilful at. An essential skill for product managers.
Ambiguity excites me. It is a place of opportunity, a chance to be creative. It says “I don’t know” loudly, while inviting you to explore and experiment with what might be.
Ambiguity can also be scary. “I don’t know” can mean the rules are not yet made, and I can’t tell you how to behave safely. Success is not known — you might fail. With this lack of rules and norms, people can behave in odd and confusing ways.
As a Product Manager, you need to navigate these two dichotomies. Doing it skilfully will reap rewards, and can even be fun!
So, how to approach the unknown? These three steps will help, regardless of the stage you are currently at in your product process.
Set the rules
Be clear what the problem is, what you are looking to solve and what you aren’t. Consider people’s roles in figuring this out — do they know what they need to do? If not, make this explicit. Focusing on the output you expect usually works best.
Create the options
To what extent you do this collaboratively will depend on your individual situation. When dealing with a crisis, speed of decision making might take precedence over achieving consensus. However, engaging with others to develop options is likely to produce better results — particularly, if the problem is novel and especially if the people that help you are diverse and able to bring their full perspectives.
Test and learn
In a situation where more than one outcome is possible, how will you know which idea best solves your problem unless you experiment? Embrace the excitement! Exploring and validating your product’s opportunities is the most interesting and exciting part of being a Product Manager.
Product management is a science and an art. Navigating ambiguity is an excellent example of this. Once equipped with a framework to approach it, you will be able to embrace and then harness ambiguity.
Have fun and,
Play in the Grey.
Does your team need help managing ambiguity? Get in touch to see how I can help.