The Product Chasm — Systems Thinking vs. Linear Planning

Why do so many top executives don’t seem to get “product”? This is the 4th post of the The Product Chasm series that introduces 9 different mental models that separate “modern product management” from “the business”. I found these models when reading through the responses to my question on product twitter.

Systems Thinking vs. Linear Planning

One explanation I’ve witnessed is that execs need to communicate deliverables and bottom lines and product work always has some uncertainty to it.
Ido Ivry

In fact, product work is inherently complex, considering all the different people and forces at play. This leads to a rather high level of uncertainty. As Dane puts it: "Uncertainty frightens most people [...] Often, incentives pull toward projecting certainty and moving toward action."

Consequently, we as product people need to apply a certain level of systems thinking to appropriately deal with the inherent complexity of product development. But that doesn’t translate very well to how most executives like to run their business, i.e. linear budget planning with a roadmap full of specific product milestones.

Alright, what now?

There’s obviously no easy way to just overcome fundamental differences in how to think about product and business, and the relationship between these domains.

In our experience, it all comes down to establishing a shared frame of reference, a common vocabulary, a grammar even, a shared language that allows for better communication and understanding of each other's perspectives and motivations.

And because human beings are very good at processing information and sharing thoughts in a visual way, it certainly helps to use a visual form to make that shared frame of reference accessible and usable for everyone.

Once we start using such a visual framework to make different perspectives explicit, and to explore the connections between everything business-related with everything product-related, we’ll see new shared mental models evolve. Such ones that will lead to new insights, and to new shared narratives, and to new shared stories, to memes even. Because that is how mental models spread and connect.

That is why we have created The Product Field many years ago, and why we are building Field today — providing a shared frame of reference for everyone who contributes to product outcomes (including executives!), and helping product leaders facilitate the process of connecting the mental models at play. Not just to cross the chasm, but to make it a little smaller every day.

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