This is an exercise for helping product leaders think more deeply about the problems they face every day
In this article, we talk about a tool we use to help product leaders think more deeply about the problems they face every day. We call it the Better Bets Canvas, based on insights found in Annie Duke's book Thinking and Bets (which you should absolutely go read).
The goal of this canvas is to gain clarity about how we're thinking about the decisions we face, then generate ideas for how to improve our likelihood of success. While you can certainly use this mental framework on your own, this exercise is best done with a small group of people that can help you challenge and add to the ways you're evaluating the situation.
⭐ Gain clarity into how we're thinking about decisions we make
⭐ Generate ways to increase our likelihood of success
⭐ Do this with others who can help challenge and expand
This article is an adaptation of Tyler Hilker's on-demand talk from Distributed '23 (Miro Conference).
Structure of the canvas
Let’s first walk through the flow of the canvas and then provide a couple examples.
👉 Get your own copy of the canvas in Miro
Take 2-3 minutes to gather all of the decisions, initiatives, projects that are into the first section of the canvas. You might find themes among them, so you can organize them together and maybe provide a note to indicate such.
Now, choose one of these that is especially important, messy, or ambiguous. This “big bet” will be the point of focus for this exercise.
In the middle column, capture all of the different factors, rationale, and attributes that influence that bet. Moving through the following sections isn't likely a linear process. You're going to go back and forth between sections, moving notes all around.
- Under “know” list what you know based on evidence. Capture your rationale for that particular aspect. Consider what evidence you have that this decision will play out the way that you think it will.
- Under “believe” list what you believe based on your experience and gut. They are no doubt valuable tools for product leaders making decisions. However, they're often insufficient and we have to learn to be honest about where they belong in the decision making process.
- Under “assume” list what you assume based on whatever expectations you have. The difference between belief and assumption is seemingly thin, but it's very important. The difference is your exposure to that reality. If you've never been in a particular situation before, kudos to you for stepping out into that new territory, but don't confuse your ability to extrapolate expectations with direct experience or evidence.
- Under “unknowns” list any potential unknowns! What are the gaps in your understanding of the situation? Here you don't have evidence, you don't have experience, and you don't even really have expectations.
Why is this process helpful?
Because we tend to rate our confidence higher than we ought to. As much as you want to say something with absolute certainty, you don't typically have as much evidence as you should. Sometimes we let our confidence in an area outweigh the substance because we're rating confidence, not evidence.
Example: You might say you know the conversion rate will increase if we decrease the number of steps in the signup process. You say you know this because the leading competitor does it this way. But you ought to turn to the group to challenge the “evidence” that you have to affirm it’s reliability, accuracy, and reliability. Especially if you’re willing to risk the success of a project on it.
Push back and ask how you know if it was decreasing steps in the signup process that made the competitor successful. Could it have been timing? Implementation? Or something else entirely? With this example, you don't have direct evidence (user testing would be direct evidence). And so you bring it down to that next section below.
Finally, take each of these factors and each of these sections and then identify ways to improve them. So starting from the top of the third column.
- Identify unknowns - For these things that you know (that you have strong evidence for that is reliable and sufficient) how do you identify additional unknowns in between those areas that you have evidence for and then fill in the gaps between them?
- Build evidence - For your beliefs, how can you gather evidence to materialize, modify, or disconfirm that belief? You're not just trying to validate, you're trying to better understand the decision and everything that went into that decision. In a group, you could suggest experiments or reference points for others to explore.
- Gain experience - For your assumptions, how can you gain experience and familiarity with the situation? Ask questions to learn from others’ experience in the group.
- Build awareness - For that which you don't know, how can you build deeper awareness of the situation? How can you gain exposure to that reality?
In this part of the exercise we're sort of moving up this ladder of evidence to try and not just increase our confidence, but to get better information.
You might've picked up on it by now, but this canvas is not an end in itself. This activity is about increasing our ability to evaluate decision factors, identify ways to improve our likelihood of success, and ultimately build better bets.