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Forget about product. It’s all about risk management.

If there is one thing most businesses care about (and are scared of) it’s risk.

I've got a great idea

The business: “Hey product team, I’ve got a great idea that I want you to build for me.”


Product team: “Ok first let’s start with why. Then we’ll do a lean canvas. We’ll go into a period of ideation, prototypying, maybe do a design sprint. We’ll fall in love with the problem. We’ll focus on the customer. Then we’ll work in sprints to deliver value sooner. And finally we’ll do retrospectives to make sure we’re continuously improving. #agile #lean #product”


The business: “Yeh I don’t care about that. Just build me this thing. Now.”


This conversation will be familiar to more than a few people. It’s likely a conversation that is had at almost every company. Many times a day. The product team might as well have been talking another language. And in reality, they were.

So how do we change the conversation to get both parties talking the same language?


Too easy. Let’s get the business to understand how we work and get them on board with all the agile and product type things we love. Tried that one? How’d it work out for you?


Maybe it’s time to try changing the language of product to the language of “the business”.


If there is one thing most businesses care about (and are scared of) it’s risk.


Risk managers work with companies to assess and identify the potential risks that may hinder the reputation, safety, security and financial prosperity of their organisation.


Once these risks have been identified, assessed and evaluated, risk managers are then tasked with implementing processes and procedures to ensure that [the business] is fully prepared to deal with any potential threats.


A risk manager’s job is inspired by the mantra, “prevention is better than cure.” It’s all about avoiding threats and mitigating the effects of those which are essentially unavoidable.


It’s not too much a stretch to repurpose this definition to that of a product manager.

Product risks

In Inspired, Marty Cagan defines the following key product risks:

  • Value: will the customer buy this or choose to use it?
  • Usability: can the user figure out how to use it?
  • Feasibility: can we build it?
  • Viability: does this solution work for our business?

There is one other product risk to highlight too:

  • Complementary: does the idea complement the current product(s) or conflict with it?

And if these don’t result in the desired effect there is always:

  • Opportunity risk: if the team works on this we can’t work on something else!

I've got another great idea

The business: “Hey product team, I’ve got a great idea that I want you to build for me.”


Product team: “Ok well let’s have a think about the risks.”


The business: “The risks? What are you talking about?”


Product team: “Well before we start let’s spend a small about of time thinking about whether or not the customer will use it. Whether they can figure out how to use it. Whether we can build it properly. Whether it will give us any ROI. You don’t want to be the guy that spent all this money on building this thing that doesn’t make any money? Or worse, that actually loses money? Let’s also think about whether it works with the other products we’ve built or whether it could do harm to them. You don’t want to be the guy that harms all these other great revenue making products do you?”


The business: “Errrrr”


Product team: “And let’s not forget to think about that other great idea you had last week. We can’t do both at the same time”


The business: “Ok. What do you suggest?”


Product team: “We can collaborate to define the risks and then work through them pretty quickly before we build the product. How does that sound?”


The business: “Well when you put it like that…”

Product Nirvana

Unlikely the conversation will be that quick but at least business and product are now talking the same language. Albeit in a slightly different dialect. 


And perhaps a product manager and a risk manager aren’t as dissimilar as they first appear.

Tom Hacon

Tom Hacon

Tom likes product. He also likes getting things done. The combination seems to work. He enjoys reading. A lot. He also enjoys writing.

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