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Unknown Unknowns

Mudassir Mustafa
Mudassir Mustafa
3 min read
Unknown Unknowns

Table of Contents

A lesson learned the hard way.

If you are a project manager or have some sort of background in project management you already know what I am talking here. But, if you are one of those ‘Agile’ only PMs this might be a helpful tool for you. So, unknowns are actually risks. Things that you dont know and things that you are not certain about. I’d spare you the talk of describing all the different types and the quadrant below - assuming you have seen that at least a few dozen times before.

Building products with lots of unknown.

So, let’s dive into it. Building any product requires a lot of market research - for both business and development needs. There's always going to be the areas that will be unknown at this point, which is quite right. The problem lies in not having the ability to tackle those unknowns.

One very simple way to handle these unknowns is the matrix above. In my experiences, if nothing is going your way and you seem to be stuck in this endless loop of chaos, staying open minded is the key and probably your best bet. Panic creates more chaos and losing the ability to think through is not something you are very much looking forward to at this point.

Try reaching out to the people who have done something similar before. As the saying goes ‘There are no new messages but just the messengers’ so there's a huge possibility that someone out of 8 billion people have gone through it. But, how to find it? I’ll tell you a website called G O O G L E and you should be good afterwards.

I also think that most of it comes down to common sense. The ability to stand in pressure and think through things is definitely a skill and maybe it’s not so common. The situation gets worsen when we (product managers) have to bill a client of give an estimate for a product. In most cases, the clients would want to the product to be done in less than $100 and overnight. But, you and I both know its not going to happen. Before pitching or quoting the price to the client, regardless of your relation with them and also regardless of their financial prowess, think objectively. Look at the integrations, documentations, consult your team multiple times, talk about similar products, do market research and then come up with a number - then just multiply it with 3. That's the time you need to quote and that's what you need to do to protect your team and that's what the client needs to hear before you keep on missing deadlines and they keep on losing confidence.

$0.2

What lessons I have learned from my failures in Capabl? For Capabl we need to do a lot of shopping cart management integrations. We are Shopify only at the time of this blog. Shopify says they will take 2 weeks to review the app. Our technical team decided it should take less than 2 weeks to build the app and 2 more to test it. So, we planned, without any buffer, 6 weeks for Shopify app integration work that also includes testing.

Our first deadline was Nov 30, we missed it. Next one was Dec 14 and Shopify still didn't approve our app so we missed it again. At the end of the Dec 2021 we used private app (Shopify is still reviewing) and launched the product at the start of 2022. When we started working on Oct 4, we gave 2 months to ourselves. It would more than 3.5 months to get out of beta and go primetime. This includes almost every weekend as well.

Shopify was a huge unknown but we downplayed it considering it should be easy to integrate. Maybe it was, I'm not a dev so I abstain myself from commenting here. But, the bottom line was it was an unknown unknown and we were just not prepared to manage it.

I write regularly about the lessons I have learned during my journey as a program and product manager. If you are going through these struggles, I hope I am providing some value to it.

Mudassir Mustafa Twitter

I help entrepreneurs and business leaders launch their products and reduce the chaos through building high performance teams and proven product management techniques.