How to Say No As A Product Manager

How to Say No As A Product Manager

The first time I ever heard about product managers I had this image in my head of what did. I thought they spend 100% of my time builidng kickass features. You definitely get to do that, sometimes :).  But along the way you find out that there is so much more to the job than building features.

“Product Managers spend more time deciding what NOT to build than what TO build”. When I say this to my new Product Managers they just don’t believe me. You have to do it for a variety of reasons:

1.The idea does not align with the company’s product strategy.
2.The work effort required to execute the idea outweights its benefits for the users
3.The idea is good but the team is working on other things that are more important for the business
4.The idea doesn’t solve a customer problem

Sometimes it doesn’t go well especially when people get attached to their ideas. And let’s be honest - Nobody likes NO for an answer.

So how does a product manager say “NO” without affecting their working relationships. I will share somethings that worked for me.

Be a good listener

Take feedback from stakeholders without bias and judge it based on its merit. There is no such thing as a bad idea. It might not be the right idea for the company at that moment. You will find that some people are not even looking to get their ideas developed. They want to discuss it to see if anything meaningful and actionable can come out of it.

Don’t make promises

I made a lot of promises early on in my career, only to backtrack later. But because I was so excited at the prospect of building it that I didn’t do the due diligence before commiting. What looked like a small enhancement often became a large development project. Now I know better(haha:)). When someone comes up to you with an idea make sure to think through to the following:

1.What problem will it solve?
2.How many customers face this problem today?
3.Is there a workaround that does the job?
4.How much effort would it take to develop the idea?

You don’t have to respond and give an answer right away. Take your time to do the research and consult teammates before making a commitment.

Explain the process

You will get a lot of feedback! Your team will have a feedback process. Most companies have a process for handling product feedback. Some have it completely dialed down and everyone in the company follows it but others not so much. Either way it is important to communicate it. Some things to let stakeholders is:

1.Whether they have provided enough information for you take action?
2.Is there a different way they should take into account the next time they want to give feedback?
3.What are the next steps in the process?
4.Will they get an update from the product team?
5.How can they check the update?
6.What to do if they are not satisfied with the response of the product team.

Replying to every feedback is sometime not possible. Especially if the product team is small. Having a well defined, documented and efficient process will help you keep track of it.

Set Expectations 

Lets look at this through an example:

Feedback sessions are a great way to get key stakeholder together on a regular basis to gauage their expectations. You might come out of a feedback session and feel like it went well ! But then you get an email a few days later asking why no one implemented the feedback yet. You scratch your head thinking how did you end up here. What did you say that led them to believe that it will be implemented in the next two weeks!

To avoid these situations make sure that at the end of a feedback session you communicate:

What will happen with the feedback?
How to track progress on action items?

Lean In

At the end of the day you might still run into issues and land in tricky situations. Unfortunately the process doesn’t always work :(. In those times always remember to lean in on your manager and peers. Learn from their experience. Chances are that they’ve been there too and can help you navigate the situation!

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