This question brought clarity and alignment to a hard-to-follow discussion. I was so surprised about the result that I wrote this blog post.
A group of engineers, engineering managers, and product managers were discussing which team should own a particular product component. Ownership of a component at Splash involves its maintenance and being the go-to team for updating it. The engineers had identified a better alignment between this particular component’s roadmap and another engineering team’s mission and area of focus. After the idea had been circulating for a while, we held a meeting to share our thoughts.
During the meeting, I felt myself a bit lost with the different opinions. Some people seemed in favor, others not, and there were many detailed implications of the potential change being shared. Trying to understand where we stood, I asked, “what do we lose if we don’t make this decision?”
Then, each participant took a step back from the details and expressed that they supported the ownership change. Not doing it meant losing a well-timed opportunity for one of our teams to increase focus and autonomy on a business problem they were already working on. So we were on the same page after all. Because we believe that focused autonomous teams are key in delivering value to customers, the meeting was followed by a change rollout document for sharing the news and receiving feedback from other team members.
“What do we lose if we don’t make this decision?” is a powerful question for a decision that feels scary. It enables to lay out the opportunities and expected results. It can uncover reasons that made a discussion feel stuck. Also it reminds us that most decisions are reversible.
I’ll continue asking this question in different contexts when reviewing proposals, feeling lost, or sensing people are stuck. Like no-oriented questions, this is a tool to surface hidden roadblocks and reach alignment. Similarly, I’ve found that asking myself this question when faced with tough personal decisions can give me the clarity and motivation to get something hard done.