Top 6 Cognitive Biases that can sabotage product management decision making

As a product manager, you will be dealing with plenty of biases. Your aim is to ensure that organizational goals are achieved and thus being aware of such cognitive biases in advance can help you discover these biases early and tackle them in a successful manner.

Confirmation Bias ✅

It’s a practice to observe data that confirm a clenched belief, a favorable outcome, or presupposition.

This bias is exhibited through :

  • latching onto data that reinforce your belief
  • rejecting data that appears to disprove your hypothesis ( forcefully tagging them as “outliers” )
  • deciphering data in a fashion that manifests optimistic insights to corroborate your assumptions.

How to tackle?

  • Diligently attempt to disprove your hypothesis by testing the null hypothesis.
  • Accept data that refute your assumptions & be objective with your approach.

Survivor Bias 🎙️

User testing, customer research & user behavioral analytics suffer from a familiar defect — they are directing their focus on the users who are most active with your product. They are the same set of users who end up submitting surveys & participating in user interviews as well. They are the most vocal customers and are mostly optimistic about your product. They are highly responsive & approachable & thus they shape the majority of decisions regarding the product.

How to tackle?

  • Divide users into 5 segments — “approachable optimistic users,” “discontented active users,” “dropped-off inactive users,” “competitors’ users,” and “potential users.”
  • Interview at least 5 users from each segment & understand their pain points in depth.

Authority Bias 👨‍⚖️

Quite often during the top-down approach at the organization, information asserted by the senior leadership or person in power is considered to be perfect & warrants no opposition. The usual practice is to omit a critical and thorough assessment of their directive due to their authority, fear, over-enthusiasm to please them, or having a notion that higher authorities must have done their exhaustive due diligence already.

How to tackle?

  • Judiciously buy time to finish of thorough discovery by speaking to customers, gathering relevant data points, and defining solutions.
  • Ensure that you & your team discover and experience these problems so as to gather empirical evidence & thus developing a fitting solution with the help of scarce resources.

Sunk-cost fallacy 💰

Once the solution is being pursued, it can reveal more insights that might not result in the anticipated impact. However, since there are sufficient resources already being infused so it results in further investment to support the same, despite the fact that the initial commitment is not valid in the current phase.

How to tackle?

  • Divide the progress into 3 phases which can help to map it against specific target metrics.
  • Clearly mention the “Out of scope scenarios” which depends on the non-availability of the relevant data points at that particular time.
  • Revaluate the progress at each phase with the availability of new data points.

Reputation Risk 👨‍🏫

We are too attached to our approach once we have showcased it to a larger audience. Since it’s public now so you consider it as your duty to honor or defend it. In this process, it’s apparent to become stubborn, & dismiss evidence that contradicts your approach.

How to tackle?

  • A seasoned PM is mature enough to detach personal emotions linked to your approach & put forth extreme professionalism in executing their duty.
  • Embrace the contradictory views and assess them thoroughly. They can serve as a learning for you.
  • Express freely about your learnings & how it helped to shape the journey of your product. It will exhibit your flexibility & mature character.

Groupthink 👥

Honestly, most of you must have experienced this bias in your career. It’s popularly known as “mob mentality”, it describes how people can be influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors on a largely emotional, rather than rational, basis. It is often not encouraged to question the holy cows and expected to follow the majority, thus maintaining the status quo.

How to tackle?

  • 5-whys is the most common technique which can assist you to understand the root problem with sufficient confidence & thus conceive relevant solutions.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve got ideas to contribute to this conversation please comment. If you like what you read and want to see more, clap me some love! Follow here, or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter

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Product Manager @AngelOne, ex-@Flipkart, @Cleartrip. Interests: Product, Technology, Strategy, Startups, Fintech & E-commerce!