Distributed Decision Making is Product Management

Anuraag Verma
Mar 9, 2020

Paige Costello, product leader at Asana, shares how product teams can optimize their processes to achieve team productivity and innovate at scale.

One of the guiding principles at Asana, a company that builds project management software, is that great product teams focus on solving problems first, not identifying features.

“We always start with the problem,” says Paige Costello, product leader at Asana. “You’re not really bringing a perspective on what to build without first bringing the problem. The decision to focus on problems is what everything else hinges upon.”

Paige leads product for Clarity, one of three product pillars at Asana. This pillar builds features that ensure Asana customers have clarity of purpose, plan, and responsibility in their workflows. This pillar fits perfectly with Asana’s ambitious mission: remove bottlenecks, empower teams to make quick, informed decisions, and prioritize team balance over burnout.

To do that, Asana’s teams take both a mindful approach to product management and a distributed approach to decision making, both of which are crucial as the organization grows or needs to move quickly.

A mindful approach has led to better problem solving, smarter decision-making, and more innovative solutions. “I joined Asana six months ago, and when I joined I got a book and it was called ‘The 15 Commitments of a Conscious Leader.’ The culture at Asana wants to support a really open conversation. There's a concept in conscious leadership of being above or below the line. We need to ask [ourselves], at any given time, where am I? You're either above or below the line. If you're above the line, you're open, you're curious, and you're committed to learning. If you're below the line, you're closed off, defensive, and you're committed to being right.”

Another thing that led to smarter decision-making at Asana is the decision-making model they structure the entire company around: distributed. With this approach, single decision-makers are identified, areas of responsibility, roles and scope are explicitly outlined, and decision-making authority is given to the person closest to the work.

“We’re trying to make sure that people don’t get bottlenecked or slowed down, and that decisions get made closest to the source,” Paige says. “So, when it comes to distributed decision-making and a growing company, it’s even more important to put trust in teams.”

In this episode, you’ll learn a lot about decision making models, distributed decision making, and team building.

Here are the highlights: 

  • Why product teams should first focus on solving problems, not identifying features (8:57)
  • How to take a mindful approach to product management (13:35)
  • Why a distributed decision-making approach leads to better outcomes (16:04)
  • Best practices and strategies for using Asana (18:53)

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