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Opportunity Decision Making

Matt O'Connell
Matt O'Connell

How should teams assess opportunities?

Which opportunities should be explored and which ones should be ignored for the time being?

In the book Continuous Discovery Habits [1], Teresa Torres lays out criteria that can be used to help teams answer these questions. Before we take a look at them...

A quick warning

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Prior to diving into the specifics around assessing opportunities, make sure you are in fact assessing opportunities.

Let's take a moment and make the distinction between an opportunity and a solution.

  • Opportunity: a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something
  • Solution: a means of solving a problem or dealing with a difficult situation

Definitions from Oxford’s English dictionary

Opportunities create circumstances that allow for solutions, they are the why behind what we do.

Be sure you are thinking about and prioritizing why you want to do something, not what you want to do. Since opportunities are the justification for choosing a solution, why does the default tend to be communicating solutions?

Roadmaps are one example of communicating and prioritizing solutions. We should take care not to focus solely on the things to be done, but instead shift the spotlight to the value that solutions are expected to create - the justification for why we hold these expectations.

Back to assessing opportunities

Teresa lays out the four criteria for assessing a set of opportunities;

  1. Opportunity Sizing - How many customers are affected by the opportunities and how often?
  2. Market Factors - How might these opportunities affect your company's position in the market?
  3. Company Factors - What is the strategic impact? Does it support your company's vision, mission, and strategic objectives?
  4. Customer Factors - How important are the opportunities to your customers?

These questions provide guardrails for comparing opportunities that can help your team make subjective decisions on priority. Teresa follows this up with an important caveat.

Embrace the Messiness

There may be multiple solutions to address the circumstances provided by an opportunity, and opportunities can open doors to other opportunities. It's our job to make the best subjective decisions we can with the information we have at the time. The idea of embracing the messiness reminds me of a quote from another book.

When someone says "Managers are decision makers," they are not talking about master strategists, for a master strategist is a designer.

~ Richard Rumlet, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy [2]

Design is subjective and often messy. There is no single objective way to approach it.

Now what?

Now it's time to ensure you're ready to best assess your opportunities by asking yourself:

  • Can I determine how many customers are affected by these opportunities? What are the customer demographics?
  • Have I thought about how pursuing this opportunity could impact my company's position in the market?
  • Do I know what my company's vision, mission, and strategic objectives are and how they relate to these opportunities?
  • Have I determined how important it would be to my customers to follow through on specific opportunities?

Asking these kinds of questions shifts the spotlight from talking about solutions, to having conversations about value.


  1. Continuous Discovery Habits
  2. Good Strategy/Bad Strategy

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Matt O'Connell
Matt O'Connell