Consensus Does NOT Mean You have Commitment

This is for any product person that has felt the frustration of overturned or unnecessarily delayed product decisions. We’ve all been there. Check it out.

The following excerpt is from Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products by Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin. Buy it now from Amazon.

Your job as a product person is to be a thought leader and to execute effectively. It’s a unique challenge that only a few functional roles within a company experience. As product leaders, we must influence and gain commitment across multiple functions and leaders; and usually, none of them report directly to you. 

This unique aspect of our job is partly what makes being a product person so fun (and exhausting at times)! So, we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss gaining commitment across complex organizations as one of the most critical practices a product leader should master. Whether you are a chief product officer or new product manager, proficiency in this practice dictates your success.

Getting commitment is required as the first step when implementing any strategy or product decision, big or small. Without commitment, agreement is moot. Commitment is something that many people in business, and in life, don’t understand and are caught off guard by when they realize they never had it. We define Commitment as:

A state in which the decision-maker(s) and critical stakeholders intend to and follow through on making the accommodations necessary to implement a decision while holding themselves accountable for their part in the success of the project, regardless of whether they agree with the decision.

Let’s break this down.

What do we mean by critical stakeholders? 

These are the business people who will be significantly impacted by the decision; not customers—you’ve already done the Groundwork to propose a product decision that meets your customer’s needs. Stakeholders are people like operational partners (internal and external), your development team, your manufacturing partners, your support team, and so on. These are the folks who have to take action in order to ensure success of the project.

What do we mean by the necessary accommodations? 

This could be anything required to execute, such as funding, human resources, operational or technical tradeoffs. 

The last part of our definition of commitment is important. 

We want to get to a situation where people may not agree with the decision, but they are committed to it because they understand how the decision was made and why. In this section, we talk about the elements involved in giving you the best chance of getting commitment on decisions: collecting the data required, presenting your case, and pressure testing commitment.

Getting commitment is very different from getting a head nod in the meeting where you propose a product decision. Many times, the head nod of agreement is taken as a “go.” But we all know that a lot happens after people walk out of a meeting. People are bombarded by inputs from others, conflicting priorities, and shiny objects that potentially change a head nod to an eventual head shake.

Sometimes getting commitment doesn’t mean you’ll get a consensus. If you strive for consensus, you could be waiting a long time. Some cultures require consensus. And to those of you working in those cultures, our hat’s off to you. We respect anyone that perseveres through consensus-building even at the cost of progress. There is a better way.

Instead of consensus, strive for a shared vision (we touched on this earlier in the book) of the data and in light of the decision, get a commitment to the actions required to be successful. Shared vision sounds like corporate jargon, we realize. But as you already know, it’s a concept that has stuck with us in our careers, because of how powerful it is. We strive for everyone impacted by a decision to understand how we got to a decision, versus just telling them what the decision is. We do this by communicating compellingly clear logic, data, and customer insight, all of which we obtain through the Groundwork and Practices we’ve explained up to this point.

The next time you see a lot of head nods in a meeting, do a double take and make sure you actually have a shared vision and a commitment on the actions that will result from the decision.


If you like what you see, there’s more where that came from. Pick up Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products by Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin from Amazon.

Product Rebels is a product management training and coaching firm run by long term product executives for companies like Intuit and Mitchell International. We have trained over 200 companies, small and enterprise level, in the skills and frameworks that help product management leaders and product managers deliver kick-ass customer experiences. We have a passion for finding efficient ways of infusing customer insight into everything product teams do in pursuit of experiences that customers love …and that drive growth.  Join us in the Product Rebels Community on Facebook or the Product Rebels Community on LinkedIn.

Take a look at our very practical training courses and coaching programs that give you practical tools, frameworks, and support you can use tomorrow in becoming a more effective product leader.

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