Saying “No” when you want to say “Yes”.
Updated: Jan 25
It always gets down to priorities.
Respect all Ideas
As a product manager, if you do your job properly and make yourself approachable, you get a lot of requests and amazing ideas. You get them from your customers, your development team, your sales or marketing team, and hopefully from almost anyone within the company or outside of it.
It is your job to create an atmosphere in which people feel comfortable to suggest new directions and ideas as well as feel very at ease to complain to you about the product.
Many times, you might not have the patience to hear the same thing again, but you must. Consider yourself the “shrink” of the product. If this is an idea you already heard or you already have in your backlog, don’t say it. People don’t like to hear “I already know it”. It might cause them next time to not come to you because you already “know it all”.
Always listen carefully as if it is the first time you hear this idea and thank the person who brought it to your attention. You may hear a new aspect or it may pay off next time.
When it is "No"
Respecting and hearing any suggestion does not mean you have to say “yes” to everything. Most of the times you have to say “no”. Of course, there is no need to say anything if people aren’t asking you for a timeline. Many times, people know that there are important things on the backlog and just want to tell you about their ideas so you may consider them sometime in the future.
In other cases, someone may think this is the most critical thing that need to be developed. The easiest cases are those that are a clear “no”. After you made sure you heard everything you may say things such as, “it’s a great idea but it does not fit the product strategy” or “it’s an amazing direction but at the moment it will de-focus us and we should reconsider it next year”.
People respect you when you have a clear vision and strategy and do not yield to whoever yells loudest or has the most authority. As long as you hear them, ask smart questions to help them form their needs, show them the data, and give a reliable answer when it is not the right thing to do, you will be respected. There are many nice ways to say “no” and you can find some of them in “7 Tips on How to Say No to Customers”.
When it is "Not Now"
The harder cases are when customers or sales come with a request for something that you may want as bad as them. Their request is totally legit, makes sense and sometimes is even urgent. However, they usually don’t see the whole picture. You know that even though it is urgent, there is something even more urgent or important. You need to make sure your team stays focused.
The best way to say “not now” is to actually share your priorities with them. If you remind your customer that what they request is indeed important, but you are actually still working on something else they also requested and ask them what they perceive as more urgent, they will usually agree with you. It will make it easier for them to wait for the other request because they understand that you are working on something even more urgent for them.
The same goes with sales or support. Don’t be afraid to share the things that stand against their request and ask them what they perceive as more important. Usually they will agree with you. And if they don’t, it is definitely a time to reconsider if your priorities are correct and possibly change them.
When it is "Must"
It is not always possible to say “no”. Sometimes what you need to do or what a customer asks you for is really important. It may be because it is something that can take the product a big step forward or a customer that is very important.
Such cases require out of the box thinking. You can think of how to minimize the work on the task needed and on other tasks as I described in “Always think MVP” to efficiently handle all requests. You may also consider bringing resources out of the team if it is possible (e.g., bring a freelancer for a short time), and any other creative way.
Priorities are Everywhere
The best thing about this practice is that it is good for almost everything in life. We usually tend to take upon ourselves too much. And if we don’t prioritize, life prioritizes for us. Resources (people, time, money) are usually limited to some extent.
Make self-aware decisions and do not let these decisions be taken for you. It is definitely fine to decide that this month you do not update the documentation because it is more important to visit some customers. The same logic you apply to your backlog you should also apply to your time. If you say you do not have time it sounds lame. If you consciously check what you spend your time on and make hard decisions what not to handle, this is being a good product manager of your time.
And it does not end at work. You prioritize when you decide how much time you spend with your family and kids vs how much time you spend at work. You prioritize when you decide that this year you will spend more money on a family vacation instead of buying a new car. As long as you consider what is more important for you and what are the constraints you are operating under you are improving your life and being more content.
Robert Brault said: “We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal”. To help yourself focus on the right things always consider the priorities and make sure you share them with your stakeholders.
Make sure you considered all the possibilities for the important things and that you indeed used all the resources in the most efficient way..