Managing executive communication and postmortems in high-risk environments

Written by Adrienne

Having worked on several high-stakes product launches with complex moving pieces, I wanted to share several things I’ve learned from my experience on managing communication with executives:

With postmortems, some common losing battles:

  • “My thing is more complicated”

  • “My thing was under-resourced”

  • “We didn’t have enough time”

  • “We should have built more automated testing earlier” — usually, you know that it was failing and investing time in testing would not have helped

You will be more successful with:

  • “We should have decreased scope in X way”

  • “We could have de-risked by doing X”

  • “We could have built X reversible door”

The broader insight here is to demonstrate a bias for action and understand what was different about your product. Assume all products were complicated, under-resourced, and time-crunched.

Other things I’ve learned recently:

  • Even if you are not responsible for implementing change, you can be responsible for highlighting problems and sharing the state of the world, and shining a light, even if it is embarrassing.

  • One of the most useful things you can do is have data that is presented well.

  • There’s a difference between saying “Ok, I agree” and then feeling responsible for the risks vs. saying “Ok, I agree, but here are the risks” and having the peace of mind that you pointed out all the problems (and that other stakeholders are also aware of these problems)

The broader insight is to take all the black boxes you see and make them as transparent as possible. It is easy for others to assume simplicity in your domain if they haven’t been working on the problems. What appears obvious to you is extraordinary to others.