Product Management Tactics — Unblocking the Unknowns



They can block your progress. Once the unknowns are known, completing each task will become much easier.


Another innovation that comes from the Basecamp team is the way that they look at progress being made on a specific project.  Of course, Basecamp is well known for their project management software. But, Ryan Singer and the rest of the team at Basecamp aren’t just interested in building project management software.  They care deeply about project management itself. And because of that, they noticed something about the way that people work.

Work doesn’t happen in linear fashion.  It happens more on a bell curve. The early part of that bell curve is when a product person or team is still “figuring things out.”  This is the stage where there are still a lot of unknowns, and therefore… the project is still pretty murky in terms of what, exactly, needs done and how long it will take to do those things.  After the peak of the bell curve, there are fewer unknowns and, therefore, teams have reached the “making it happen” stage.  The Basecamp team talks about this concept in more depth here.  

Attendees of the inaugural European edition of INDUSTRY: The Product Conference in Dublin, Ireland in April 2018 got a glimpse into this concept in a talk that Ryan Singer gave.  

This concept makes so much sense — that, candidly, we’re unsure why we haven’t thought of work timelines like this before.  Because up until now, that’s pretty much how everybody thought about work… in a timeline form. First, x gets completed… then y… and so on.  But, chances are, in the earliest stages of a project, there are so many complications and unknowns that naturally, those early stages will take more brain-power, if not more time, to ultimately complete.  

So, what’s the best way to get over this literal hump… to get to the other side of the bell curve?

Well, once your biggest unknowns are solved for, you should be able to get there relatively quickly.  We all know that it can be difficult and time-consuming to get past those big unknowns within a project.  But, we also know that sometimes it can be easy to put those off… just concentrate on work that doesn’t require us to answer big, looming questions until we absolutely have to.  

But, what if we thought differently?  If we forced ourselves to tackle as many of those big unknowns as possible in the beginning, would it help?  We’re not completely sure, to be candid. But we know that we’d like to begin experimenting and begin thoughtfully approaching some of our own projects this way to find out.  Maybe you could, too!