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Critical thinking and decision making in Product Management

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

If you havent come across the 6 Hats methodology for critical thinking and decision making you are going to get introduced to it right here. The methodology is typically used in a group setting where the group needs to have some structure around the planning and thinking process. Its been around for decades and was introduced by Edward De Bono. I first came across the six hats when I was at university over 25 years ago while we were doing case studies and the professor suggested that we explore the six-hats approach to flesh out the details. To some extent that learnings from that part of my life have been ingrained into how i go about building out my product vision and making decisions on a day to day basis. While there are more advanced tools which are being used today - sometimes its still worthwhile to keep it simple and sweet with a methodology for brainstorming which is easy to follow and digest.

Six hats approach

The six-hats approach was designed in such a way that it should provide a level of mental stimulation to challenge the brain to focus. It aims to put your selves under a specifice "role" there by forcing a way of thinking which many consider to be unnatural. This is probably the reason why we dont hear about it too much these days as the approach within innovation teams today is to really look at the problem which is being solved and engage those users directly to understand what that pain point is and then prototyping solutions and co-creating.

Why its a useful tool

I still think that as a product manager you still need access to simple and intuitive tools to help you do some critical thinking yourself and with your focus groups. You can use the tool in isolation by yourself to evaluate and decide based on the experience, customer feedback, data, problem statements which you have already received which is tucked away in a dormat part of your brain. The Six-hats to me is that simple tool to get things out from the closet onto paper. You can also use this tool in tandem with other tools like mind-mapping to extrapolate greater level of details.

Lets add some colour

De Bono gave the six hats different colours so that they represented a different thinking focus. The foundations behind these colours are :

Blue : The big picture

White : Facts and Information

Red : Feels & Emotions

Black : Critical Judgement

Yellow : Positive

Green : New Ideas.

How to use the hats

Now that we know what the required thinking modes are for people to switch on to for each hat colour lets discuss how these hats are actually used in practice. The idea behind these hats is to create a program of directed thinking by following a sequence of hat colours i.e. thinking modes so that there is a journey created from start to finish, and through this process the brain would respond.

looking at what you see above you can see that the sequencing of the hats actually does make a lot of sense and pulls the different outputs from each of the "hats" into an ordered manner. Lets take the example of the "Quick Feedback" where the the sequence goes from BLUE→Black→Green→Blue, so we start with the big picture, then make a critical judgement call, check if there are any other new ideas which could be looked at and then go back to the big picture to close on it.

Note: The various sequencing models has been sourced from wikipedia and has been visualised for the blog.

Example : John asks Lucy how Product-ABC compares to the competion.

  1. Blue Hat on : The big picture here is we need to assess if the product is comparable to the competition and how different it is.

  2. Black Hat on : Based on the comparison of product features a critical assesment is done following which a view is taken on how the products compare, and if product ABC is say superior to Product XYZ in any way.

  3. Green Hat on : During the evaluation some new ideas surface which could make Product-ABC more competitive. These are captured by the team and there is mutual agreement.

  4. Blue Hat on : To assist with the closure we go back to tbe Blue Hat and summarise the discovery which was made and dovetail it back to the original big picture to form a new narrative

Six Hats and personalities

Apart from how six thats is typically used I can put forward a case to you to think about extending the model to personalities who you work with. There is always a "big picture" guy, sometone who goes through "facts and information" as their basis for decision making, a gut feel kind of person for whome its all about "feelings and emotion", the there is the person who always likes to pour water on every thing that comes across their way the "critical judge", you have also well wishers who are willing to support you the "positives" of the world and lastly you have the "new ideas" champion who is constantly looking for the next big thing.


  • You can use the six hat approach for both problem solving and new idea generation.

  • Find a mechanism to capture the thougths which come out of this discovery process. I like to use Trello. Its simple!

  • Use this for your solo brain storming exercises as well as group sessions.

  • Combine the use of Six Hats with other tools such as mindmapping.

  • Keep a good record of the decisions which were arrived at and spend some time reflecting on the outcome.

  • Feel free to tweak the process as you see fit to accomodate your specific scenarious and environment. Its a tool so tweak it as you need to.

Now that you know what the six-hats methodology is you will now understand what people mean when they say "put your thinking cap on".

I hope these insights will help you refine your approach to problem solving in you product management career. Take your time to develop these traits and be aware of them as you lead your teams during the messy middle. I welcome your thoughts and experiences on how you lead your teams in solving problems. Register yourself at and help the community.

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