4 ways to deal with ambiguity

Amazon purposefully has ambiguous asks of each employee. As a company, we know what the end goal is, but we are constantly trying to figure out how to get there quicker, more efficiently, and in a way that improves the customer experience. 
 
But I’ve watched so many people struggle as they try to navigate their way through ambiguous asks, but when you break it down into these simple 4 steps, it’s nothing you can’t handle.
 
Your brain wants to know the exact steps and to-dos to get to the end result. You are literally wired to freak out when we don’t have all the answers because that feels dangerous and your brain is ALWAYS on the lookout for danger. But not knowing HOW to reach your goal is not actually dangerous. It just feels hard.
 
Following these 4 steps and help you skip the freak out part and get right to work.
 
1.     Be clear on the result you are trying to get: Notice I did not say, know every step and process, and detail on HOW you are going to get there. Just make sure everyone is aligned on what the goal is and how you will measure success.
 
Maybe your manager asked you to increase engagement with your product. Start by establishing a clearly defined goal behind that ambiguous ask.  It might be something like, decrease customer attrition in week 5 from 23% to 10% measured by app launches.
 
Now that you know exactly what result you are working towards, you can get to work, right….?  I’m guessing you are thinking, I know what I’m trying to do, but how do I do that?
 
2.     Identify the obstacles: Next you have to identify the obstacles you think you’ll run into in reaching this goal. You probably don’t know all of them today, but write down everything your brain is freaking out about. HINT: Those are the obstacles.
 
It could be things like: How are we tracking app launches today and how do I get that data? What happens between week 4-5 that drives the large drop in engagement? How do I get dev resources when I don’t even have a plan?  How can I directly tie back what we test to the change in engagement?  What ways can we communicate with to drive engagement? Where do I even start?
 
3.     Come up with a strategy for each obstacle: Now that you know what challenges you need to start tackling, come up with a plan to tackle each one. Don’t worry about it being the “right” plan, just start thinking of ways to overcome these obstacles.
 
Things like: Attend BI office hours next Tuesday to understand how we measure app launches today. Ask BI team and coworkers if there’s a query with this data. Walk through customer experience of the product. Look at key drivers in engagement during weeks 1-4. Meet with TPM to understand Dev sprint cycles, intake process and how things are prioritized. Meet with marketing team to understand communication channels. Meet with PM on other teams that have similar challenges.
 
4.     Focus on the ONE next think you need to do: To be clear, you still have NO idea how you are going to do this. This is still a very ambiguous ask. The goal might not even be possible given the available tools you have today. BUT, all you need to focus on is the ONE next thing to do. Keep taking just one step at a time. Talk to all the people. Dig through all the data. Then you can come up with a plan, write the doc and start taking action to see what does and does not work.
 
Above all else, try to keep a realistic perspective. Leadership has not solved this problem yet and does not know exactly what to do which is why they hired you and asked you to help. If you knew exactly what to do, you would probably be their boss. So, step in, get to work, and don’t worry about the unknowns. Figuring it all out is the rewarding part of your job.
 
If you want help figuring out how to move forward with your projects and feel confident while you do it, let’s jump on the phone and come up with a plan together. Sing up for free coaching here.