#PMSkillsAreLifeSkills: Plan for the Unexpected and De-escalate like a Ninja

Photo by @socialroby via Twenty20

Answer from Stephanie Muxfeld

Life is full of expectations

Set the appropriate expectations

  • Elapsed time until the team is finished. When we estimate our delivery dates, we should pay careful attention to how far into the future our delivery is expected to occur. If it’s only a few weeks from now, we can likely make an estimate to within a day or two. But if we’re talking about a delivery that is months into the future, it’s difficult to accurately estimate completion down to a single date. Delivery estimates are a question of probability. As you get closer to the end, you’ll be in a better position to refine your estimate and make it narrower based on the information you have. The same is true for planning in your personal life — planning events far into the future creates risk. You can mitigate that risk by planning to revisit your progress closer to the actual date.
  • Scope changes. How solid is your scope? As we start development and begin iterating, we will often discover something that had not been previously accounted for. How likely is that to happen in your situation? The same question applies to parenting; things are always coming up — someone gets sick, someone is grumpy, playdate plans change. When the kids are still young, the potential for scope change is especially high.
  • Maturity of the team. Experience matters when it comes to estimation, so more mature teams generally make better estimates. if your team is newly-formed, their estimates will be less accurate. With parenting, as your child matures, they become better at planning and being accountable for themselves. They can also better estimate how long things like homework or instrument practice will take. Trust me when I tell you it gets easier as they get older!
  • Interruptions. How often is your team interrupted during a sprint? Are they frequently moving away from committed sprint work to focus on production outages or other emergencies? If so, you should consider building a buffer into your sprint capacity to deal with interruptions. The same is true for parenting; when the kids are young, you need more interrupt buffer. I’ve long since learned to use time ranges (“We’ll be there between 2 and 2:30 PM”) to account for last-minute diaper changes and tantrums. I still remember a few solid years as a new parent where I couldn’t eat, much less finish, a hot meal. Mealtimes were constantly interrupted and it’s just a part of the job.

Choose your work based on the value

De-escalate when you must

  • Stay calm. It’s important that you remain the calm voice in the room. If you get emotional or angry, there is almost no hope of resolving the situation in a healthy and productive manner. Delay the conversation, if you can, until you’re ready to tackle it.
  • Start by agreeing. Get the conversation to a good start by focusing on a point that you and your stakeholders have in common. In your product manager role, this step may mean expressing agreement that the features which have been delayed are valuable to the customer and that you, like your stakeholders, want these features in the product as soon as possible. As a parent, it might be that you agree that broccoli isn’t the best-tasting vegetable.
  • Acknowledge their point of view. After you have established common ground, focus on acknowledging the other person’s point of view. Even if you don’t agree with them, people find comfort and validation in being heard.



Answer from Vidya Venkatesh

Planning for the unexpected

Anticipate risks and plan accordingly

Be flexible while focusing on the big picture

When all else fails, fall back on de-escalation techniques

Focus on the root cause of emotions

Bring in reinforcements

In Summary




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