Now and again we like to showcase an excellent blog from someone else.

We talk about dealing with Hi.P.P.O.s (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) on our training course but this blog introduces a new animal to be feared – the Z.E.B.R.A.

It’s written by Tristan Kromer who is a Lean Startup Coach & T-shaped Product Guy across in San Francisco. You can see the original blog here and get in touch with Tristan at

We and you may not agree with it all – but it’s a great read!


The Hippo is a much-maligned creature. Forever scorned by data scientists and UX professionals

Hi.P.P.O stands for the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. It’s a time-honored way of making decisions that go back centuries.

If a decision has to be made, the boss’s opinion wins. After all, there must be some reason they get paid more!

If we’re deciding between a red button and a blue button for our Call-To-Action, don’t test, just ask Hi.P.P.O! There’s even a SaaS web site dedicated to asking Hi.P.P.Os.

Personally, we don’t mind the Hi.P.P.O. Sometimes we have to bow before the Hi.P.P.O. Sometimes we are the Hi.P.P.O.

What we truly fear is the Z.E.B.R.A (more on that below).

While the Hi.P.P.O is often rightly derided as a terrible decision-making process, there are some situations where it’s actually a good thing. So here are 3 reasons why we might want to listen to the Hi.P.P.O.

1) Testing is Expensive

Sometimes, it’s just not worth it.

For Google, it makes a huge amount of sense to test 41 shades of blue. A fraction of a 1% increase in conversions can mean millions of dollars to Google. For the typical startup? Not so much.

Google also has millions of page views and can detect statistical significance out of such small changes. Most companies don’t have the luxury of large sample sizes and a decent test might take weeks or months to gather sufficient data.

If the cost to run an A/B or other usability testing method is equal to or larger than the expected value of a successful test, then it’s certainly not worth it. Just do what the Hi.P.P.O says and call it a day.

2) Choose Your Battles Wisely

Also, remember that there is a personal cost to endlessly challenging everyone’s suggestions and testing every little thing: People might hate us and we might lose the will to fight.

While we should never senselessly bow to authority, sometimes it’s worth it to just add that stupid link to the CEO’s pet project in the footer.

Will it impact site performance? Probably not.

Will it make the CEO happy? Yes.

Would insisting on testing it just irritate the hell out of the CEO, the engineer who has to implement the A/B test, and the data analyst who has to do the custom SQL query to crunch the data? Yes.

Are all the aggravation and declining team morale going to make it harder to get buy-in for running the next test? You betcha.

It takes courage to stand up, challenge authority, and insist on what is right.

But courage, willpower, and team morale are finite resources. Don’t waste them on stupid stuff.

3) Authority Ends Debate

There is a third cost (sensing the theme?) to running tests. The cost of debate.

The ‘product’ of lean startup is knowledge, so any company activity that doesn’t produce knowledge is wasteful.

Debating does not produce knowledge. It is a wasteful activity.

Analyzing results is not debating. That’s a useful activity. But debating opinions? Pure waste.

This is where the Z.E.B.R.A comes in.


Fear the Z.E.B.R.A

Where the Hi.P.P.O takes charge via authoritarian structure, the Z.E.B.R.A has the most fearsome weapon of all, pure arrogance.

Z.E.B.R.A = Zero Evidence But Really Arrogant.

(Credit for this brilliant acronym goes to Emily Chiu.)

The Zebra is often someone with “expertise” who “really knows the customer” but doesn’t have any facts to back them up. Sometimes this is the PM or the CEO, but more often it’s the UX person. (Sorry UX folks!)

Based on years of design experience, we just know that the button should be red, the image should be smaller, and the shading on the button should be 4 px, and, god forbid, not 3 px.

This is far more dangerous than the Hi.P.P.O because while the Hi.P.P.O can be swayed by facts, the Z.E.B.R.A. says, “The customer is wrong.”

The Hi.P.P.O is a default decision. In the absence of facts, do what the boss says.

The Z.E.B.R.A rules through the tyranny of expertise.

For all the Hi.P.P.Os out there: Try to live by this mantra, “I’ve made a decision. If you’d like to change the decision, bring me facts. Define an experiment that will prove me wrong, and I’ll back it, but the debate is over.”

For the Z.E.B.R.As: Repeat after me, “All opinions are equal in the absence of data.”

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The real problem is that those often go together = ZEBRHIPPO.
Then you know you are in trouble. I have seen this happening on many projects and one in particular.
When they were not HiPPO enough, they were calling their Business-side boss that was beating the IT-side boss.
Jungle carnage that was.

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