Product Management New Year’s Resolution: Just Say No (Gracefully)!


As product managers we are constantly bombarded with requests:

    • Put this new feature in the product!
    • Drop everything – I need you to travel to a customer and do a product demo!
    • Quick, give me a competitive selling sheet by tomorrow!
    • We don’t have a tech writer – you need to write the manual!
    • You have to talk to this customer and explain why our product can’t do what they want!

And the list could go on and on…

If you don’t learn to firmly say “No” then you become what we here at the 280 Group call a “Product Janitor” – always cleaning up other’s messes and doing the work that no one else wants to do. If you aren’t careful then you’ll end up doing a lot of low-level work and have no time for the strategic (and most important) part of your Product Management job.

Here are some suggestions for how to say No more gracefully:

  • For feature requests implement a formal process for capturing requirements and communicate to everyone (many times) how you go about capturing and prioritizing requirements. Oftentimes all that your customers, salespeople, executives and others who insist on their pet feature being included just need to feel heard. And many times when you get to prioritization they will have completely forgotten about their request!
  • Clarify your role and responsibilities – what you DO and what you DON’T DO and proactively communicate this to everyone you interact with. Post it in your cube. Get your boss’s support and backing. Then stick to it.
  • Practice saying No to another person. This may sound too simple to work, but I did this in a workshop once and it was amazing how many people had a hard time just saying No firmly. Have a friend or your spouse sit down with you and make several dozen requests and simply say No. Don’t apologize. Don’t try to justify why you can’t do it. Just say No or “I’m sorry but I won’t do that”.
  • When you do say Yes ALWAYS be thinking about how to leverage it. If someone asks you to go to a customer to do a demo and you say yes let them know that you will only do it if they learn the demo so you don’t have to do it again for them (and write out a demo script for them so you can use it with others.

So here is our challenge to you for 2012 – count how many times you say No in the next 30 days.

Then come back and comment on this post and tell us how many times you did it, what worked and what didn’t.

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