Learning that compromise doesn’t equal failure

I was on holiday in Africa this week, leaving product behind and heading for the mountains and the sun.

Whenever I’m away I tend to keep a sneaky eye on anything involving developers, because issues that arise there are usually the most complicated to fix, and I’m the one who knows what shade of yellow all the balls in the air are.

Mostly I decide things can wait, but occasionally I’ll step in if I see conversations heading towards a consequence that hasn’t been accounted for.

When that happened during my holiday this week, it made me wonder whether imperfection is inherent to product management and whether that might not just be a reassuring fact, but also a positive one that leads to better overall results.

Playing out on Podio this week I could see my team trying to fix something in a way I knew would break something else. They’d done all the right things; figured out the problem, consulted with a developer, kept people informed and agreed a fix.

When I jumped in and got them to revert their decision, it made me stop to notice that they were dealing with a problem that, in the timeframe, didn’t have a correct answer – there were two paths and the one I pushed them to take was still wrong, just less wrong than its alternative.

These are the types of decisions I make all the time, but on each occasion a tiny bit of me feels like a failure; I didn’t find the third way, I couldn’t get everybody to win before the clock ran out and I had to settle for something less than what I wanted.

Watching a great team of capable people going through the same process this week made me not only resolve to cut myself a little more slack in this area, but also gave me the opportunity to reflect on the benefits of that rock and hard place situation. There will be a third way for next time and getting back to work on Monday will allow me to find it, but will also give me something I wouldn’t have had if the issue had been easier to solve.

These trickier problems and craggier paths to success lead to the pondering, consulting and late night googling that make us good, better and then the best at our jobs. They’ve led us to find the third way more often than we’ve ever stopped to notice. The development is gradual, but the only way to achieve it is to keep clashing with the issues that don’t have an obvious answer and use what we learn to keep moving forward.

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