Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) is a concept that involves a team coming to a decision based purely on the most senior member of the team’s opinion.
Sometimes a HiPPO is simply an unconscious bias that the team isn’t actively aware of. Other times it can be a result of higher-ups wielding their power incorrectly. Either way, you’re not making the best possible decision for the product or the customer.
One of the most notorious HiPPO failures came from Amazon’s eagerness to enter the smartphone sector. The Fire Phone was Jeff Bezos’ pet project, and staffers weren’t confident enough to question the will of the guy who created Amazon and the Kindle.
Bezos being a fan of “bold bets” wasn’t a new concept, but it really was a case of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” when it came to the Fire Phone. The motivation behind the project was wrong, and staffers being unable to convince Bezos that the idea wasn’t viable led to a $170 million write-off relating to the project.
The HiPPO effect takes any thought out of decision-making processes. Teams aren’t looking at customer needs, gaps in the market, or following research. Instead, they’re simply trusting that because a person is paid more, their opinion must be more valuable.
Sure, the HiPPO effect may work in some situations, but it's far riskier than performing deep analysis to identify what you truly need to do and how things should be prioritized.
Going up against a HiPPO can be nerve-racking, but it’s not impossible. You’ll need confidence behind you when countering their decision, but that’s going to be simple if you back up your opinion with facts.
Use data-driven techniques and encourage your team to perform decision-making sessions to ensure everyone involved in the project can have their say. A well-researched and prioritized roadmap is far more powerful than one well-paid figurehead's thoughts and feelings.