How to say “no” the right way — from a product management perspective
In product management, every day we hear ideas or requirements from management, customers, development, operations, sales, marketing, partners, legal, and other stakeholders.
This is good and important, as relevant opportunities, ideas, or innovations may be among them. Some of those are the ones we are looking for. Most opportunities, however, will not be taken forward after they have been qualified. This is not only the case for those where assumptions have been falsified.
Why saying “no” is necessary
Many opportunities may be valid in isolation, but without sufficient added value compared to others. Either because they are too small, or because they do not add value to the strategy in the long run. A good Strategy increases the value of individual opportunities. They reinforce each other in combination and become big as a result.
To be able to pursue a successful product strategy, it is essential to say “no” to most proposals and ideas. Otherwise, products and companies get stuck in the optimization trap. Development turns into a feature factory that tries to optimize sales “strategy-free” and ends up at a dead end at some point.
Better to say “yes”
What remains: Saying “no” is unpopular and you quickly become a “roadblock to success”. So instead of saying “no”, you’d better say “yes” — just to other things that are more important based on understandable rationale. In this way, we put the negative news into perspective by associating it with a positive one that can be accepted. The point is not to become ironic but to put the request in the right context and relation.
Eliminate desires by creating greater desires
We choose to say “no” to optimize the greater whole. And so, we should stay at the argumentation level of the relevant stakeholder to convince her or him that the request would only hold us up in the process. Three examples to illustrate that point:
- Instead of winning 100 customers with a dozen requirements from various opportunities, rather win 1500 new customers through the planned strategic expansion to a new target group.
- Instead of realizing 10% growth in the current market through cooperation, better create 30% growth through further internationalization.
- Instead of many small changes without significant added sales, rather pursue a shift to a new pricing model, which can develop a much higher revenue potential.
For some topics, e.g. refactorings, this form of argumentation becomes more difficult. In this case, it is more suitable to create a consensus in which no future is seen without these improvements. Such development goals should therefore rather be anchored as fundamental principles and not be subject to negotiation.
Key success factors
In return, this approach requires a few qualities in product management:
- An understandable, accepted strategy that delivers results.
- Market and product knowledge as well as a basic mastery of numbers, facts, and testing principles to argue based on data and not on assumptions.
- A process for discovery that delivers qualitative and accepted results and distributes this knowledge.
- Communication that makes product management decisions transparent and understandable to other stakeholders.
Over time, these success factors lead to trust in product management decisions. The more trust stakeholders have, the more cooperative they will be in supporting the decisions. As a result, work becomes more pleasant and successful on both sides.