Product Management

How do you say no?

There’s so much to build, and the CEO often has 10 new ideas a day. To safeguard your team’s focus, you need to say no. What are some of your best tips on answering to yet another feature request?

  • Author of at Lateral Leadership: A Practical Guide for Agile Product Managers.

    Investing more time "upfront" in the clarification of your strategy, goals (e.g. using OKR) and mission briefings for upcoming projects. The important aspect is to collaborate on these using clear language and avoid jargon. This way, you will have a clear reference to point to when it's time to debate (potential) pet project ideas. If your boss is more of a numbers guy, I recommend embracing an objective scoring criterion like the ICE score to rank ideas in a clear order.

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  • The Team at JAM

    You’re drowning in feature requests and “genius ideas” flooding you from all corners? There is an easy fix!

    Ok, no, there isn’t. This is just another day in the life of a Product Manager. You can’t stop the flood, but you can learn to deal with it. How? By learning to say "no". And this is a tricky dance.

    Know your principles

    Establish a clear system of assigning value to feature requests. For example, count the number of users who mention a particular idea or problem. You can even assign values to people's opinion based on, for example, the length of interaction with your product. This will enable you to fend off team's requests without getting personal: “Your idea has an user impact score of 15. We have three others with a score of over 35.”

    Commit

    We're not talking about git commits, but rather setting your mind on something. Create a culture where when you commit to an idea, you hold off measuring its impact until it’s executed. This gives you a guilt-free period of time to work on something, and a clear reason to say "no" to other requests. When someone excitedly suggests a new idea, say you’ll add it to the backlog. By the time the next ideas’ review comes up, there is a high chance passions will have dissipated.

    Estimate timeframes

    This is perhaps just an extra factor in the scoring process. You can commit to work on a feature that will take five full months to complete. But, consider it might prevent you from working on potential emergencies. It will also mean you won’t ship anything else during that time. Beyoncé, can you handle this? How about your users or investors? Highlight the time and opportunity cost to the idea giver to explain why their suggestion goes on the (never ending?) backlog.

    Remind others about the vision

    The company needs to operate with a shared vision in mind. The vision dictates the long term goal, which is built from smaller steps — daily decisions. If the steps don’t contribute to the vision, they are steps to a wrong dance. As a PM you lead the way.

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