Knowing when to say no

If you want to be a bad product manager, say yes to everything. Say yes to every customer feature request. Say yes to every modification that sales asks for that they ensure you is “necessary” to close a sale. Say yes to every whim of every executive and stakeholder. Say yes to every suggestion that sounds like a good idea. After all, the more features, the more options, and the more stuff you can add in to the product, the better the product will be. There are potential customers and users out there — if you don’t have exactly the capabilities they need, they will turn to a competitor. The only way to ensure that they choose your product is by making the product as full-featured as possible.

If you want to be a good product manager, learn how to say no. This is one of the most difficult aspects of product management, but one of the most important. Learning to say no will prevent unnecessary features from being added to the product, limit the amount of customization that is included for specific customers, and allow you to focus your product development efforts on specific objectives. Saying no may be disheartening to some, but it can be a rallying point, by following it up with a clear vision about what you will say “yes” to.

There’s also a difference between an never-ever “no” and a not-right-now-but-maybe-later “no.” The latter is well used to placate customers, sales representatives, executives, and product development staff when good ideas are brought forward. A great product management skill to develop is the ability to let those people know that the idea is definitely worth considering and you appreciate their input, but at the present time there are other objectives on which you are focusing your efforts.

In The Product Manager’s Handbook, Linda Gorchels interviews Paul Baumgart of GE Healthcare, asking about the “biggest mistakes product managers make in learning about and segmenting customers.” He concludes his response with this statement:

Learning to say ‘no’ as a product manager is just as important to the profitability and success of a business — maybe even more so — than knowing when to say ‘yes’.

2 thoughts on “Knowing when to say no

  1. I remember one salesperson who had one sure fire scheme after another for tapping into unpromising revenue streams. I said no every time. He went around me every time and his efforts invariably used up a lot of resources and produced nothing.

    He was such an object lesson in the value of saying no that I think of him every time I need to do it. “No, Brad. That won’t work. No, Brad, that’s not our market. No, Brad, the product isn’t designed for that.”

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