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Good product growth requires figuring out and homing in on the magical overlap between desirability, feasibility, and viability—the place innovation lives. Product managers are continuously within the place of getting to defend the steadiness amongst these domains, countering the forces that compete to tug a product too far in a single path on the expense of the others. This implies saying no—many instances and to many individuals—over the course of the product growth journey.

Earlier in my profession, I labored on a challenge within the automotive house, growing an app that used machine studying knowledgeable by environmental knowledge and person conduct to supply good recommendations to drivers. On the time I joined the staff, the app was poised for launch and administration was wanting to launch it, however I quickly realized that it was removed from prepared for manufacturing.

Whereas the app was visually interesting, among the most basic design questions had been ignored, corresponding to “What downside are we fixing, and for whom?” and “How determined are individuals to have this downside solved?”

The app boasted a function that may show the climate on the driver’s vacation spot. From person habits and site visitors knowledge, the algorithm might infer the place a driver may be headed and the way lengthy it will take to get there, and a easy climate API integration confirmed the climate forecast for the vacation spot on the time of arrival. This appeared like a pleasant use case, however in actuality, nobody cared. After I performed my very own person analysis, together with a paid survey of European drivers, the response was a powerful “Meh.” That’s arguably the worst suggestions you may get: It means your product solved an irrelevant downside and signifies that the desirability dimension is extraordinarily low. Viability is then a misplaced trigger: It’s not possible to construct a viable enterprise with a product nobody needs. We needed to scrap the entire thing.

Efficient product technique means saying no to stakeholders at any time when a brand new concept threatens to throw off the fragile steadiness between product desirability, feasibility, and viability.

How might this have occurred? The reply is difficult, nevertheless it boils all the way down to the truth that a crucial phrase wasn’t uttered when it ought to have been: No.

The corporate’s core competency and property have been machine-learning inference engines and extremely scalable structure design. The top of knowledge science was a strong stakeholder who wished to see his inference engines put to good use in a buyer software. His affect, partly, had resulted in a product that was utterly tech-centric. Improvement had been pushed by what was possible technologically as an alternative of what clients desired.

It appeared that no person had advised this stakeholder no, and if that they had tried, it hadn’t been efficient.

Product Technique Means Saying No

Saying no is difficult. Individuals don’t at all times like listening to the phrase, and there’s usually a concern that saying it’ll injury essential relationships. As product managers, relationships are central to our position, however so is making certain that our merchandise are profitable and stay in steadiness.

So, how do you reject somebody’s request whereas maintaining the connection intact? I like to recommend these practices:

  • Set your self up for achievement.
  • Don’t say no too shortly.
  • Reframe the request.
  • Encourage a local weather of contribution.

Set Your self Up for Success

On the outset of a challenge, it’s important that everybody agree on a shared imaginative and prescient for the product’s success (“Why are we doing this?”) and on a set of metrics that will probably be used to measure progress (“How will we all know if we’re doing it properly?”). For those who don’t agree on what success seems to be like, it’s solely a matter of time earlier than conflicts come up.

It’s useful to make use of a framework to doc objectives and map them to one thing measurable. I like to make use of a free model of Google’s HEART framework, which organizes person expertise into classes for Happiness, Engagement, Adoption, Retention, and Process Success, after which articulates objectives, indicators, and metrics for every of these classes. Targets handle what you are attempting to attain, indicators break down every purpose into person actions, and metrics monitor these actions to gauge the way you’re doing in a means that’s quantifiable.

On one current client app challenge, I wished to conduct a restricted pilot to find out if customers discovered our prototype helpful and wished to maintain interacting with it; I used to be targeted totally on the Engagement class of the HEART framework. I then needed to determine indicators and metrics to trace progress towards that purpose:

  • Purpose: Customers need to work together with the app and proceed utilizing it.
  • Sign: Customers open the app steadily.
  • Metric: Share of customers who open the app no less than twice per day.

This technique of figuring out and aligning on objectives might seem easy, nevertheless it’s not straightforward. On this case, it concerned calls with the consumer and our gross sales staff, unbiased analysis, and a number of staff workshops. Based mostly on the data I gathered from this discovery, I used to be capable of current the finished HEART framework in the course of the kickoff assembly with the consumer. We went by way of all of the objects and tailored the place wanted.

Making certain that each one stakeholders are concerned within the goal-setting course of is crucial, and getting everybody to agree on what indicators and metrics should be tracked eliminates the necessity to say no repeatedly as a challenge progresses. It additionally offers you knowledge to level to if somebody approaches you with a request that falls exterior the parameters of the plan.

Don’t Say No Too Shortly

Even when key stakeholders agree on what success seems to be like and the highway forward appears clear, one factor is definite: Somebody, someplace, will method you with an unexpected ask.

When that occurs, don’t say no too shortly. Even in case you’re sure the request is unreasonable, rejecting it outright shuts down dialog and will injury the connection. It additionally undermines the product discovery course of. As product managers, we have to see the complete image, and listening to individuals who disagree with us reduces our blind spots.

You possibly can nonetheless say no, after all, however it’s essential keep away from knee-jerk responses. These result in binary discussions which can be the results of black-and-white, right-or-wrong, win-or-lose considering: Both you implement one thing otherwise you don’t.

To maneuver towards more practical, nuanced discussions, it’s essential arrange requests in response to the agreed-upon standards you’ve established as a part of your goal-setting course of.

As a substitute of asking a stakeholder “Is that this function priceless to you?” ask “How priceless is that this function to you?” The ensuing dialog ought to provide the info it’s essential collaborate on an inventory of “needs,” ordered by way of significance. It’s important that this rating vary from 1 to n, with out permitting a number of objects to share the identical place within the hierarchy. This provides everybody a voice within the prioritization course of and excuses you from having to reject requests unilaterally. Some requests will fall by the wayside when the group downgrades them in favor of extra essential ones.

Reframe the Request

A request that appears unreasonable initially can yield optimistic outcomes with some delicate reengineering. First, pay attention to what’s being stated. Actually pay attention. Put your assumptions apart and attempt to perceive the place the opposite individual is coming from, after which discover frequent floor. For those who dig a bit deeper by asking “Why”—not essentially the 5 instances you’ve heard about; two to a few will typically suffice—you would possibly unearth an element that speaks to a shared purpose.

Even a wonderfully wise request can profit from a deeper dive and little bit of reframing. I bear in mind a scenario through which I used to be engaged on a enterprise intelligence instrument for a B2B mobility service. My consumer requested me, not unexpectedly, to get subscriber numbers up. Whereas the motivation for growing the variety of paying subscribers could seem self-evident, I wished to verify I had the complete image, so I requested, “Why?”

It turned out that the product in query was approaching the tip of its life cycle, and my consumer wished to squeeze out the final drops of revenue earlier than changing it with a brand new product. With this info, I reframed the request to “How would possibly we significantly improve income within the brief time period whereas laying the groundwork for the upcoming product launch?”

Finally, the most effective resolution was to not hassle with subscriber numbers in any respect however to raised align pricing with worth. Prospects had been paying a hard and fast month-to-month subscription, no matter how usually they used the instrument for rider transactions. The extra rider transactions they processed, nonetheless, the extra worth they derived from the instrument. Prospects ranged from particular person taxi drivers making solely a handful of month-to-month transactions to multinational freight carriers—with dozens of subsidiaries and hundreds of automobiles—making tons of of hundreds of month-to-month transactions. The identical mounted month-to-month subscription was too excessive for the small shoppers and too low for the massive ones.

By making small pricing changes, we elevated income whereas baby-stepping towards a tiered pricing construction (based mostly on variety of transactions) for the soon-to-be-released product. The brand new mannequin decreased the value for many clients whereas growing it for the most important clients, who had been benefiting disproportionately.

By reframing requests on this means, you may create win-win conditions. The individual bringing ahead the request feels heard and revered, and also you achieve perception that may add worth with out derailing the product growth course of.

Encourage a Local weather of Contribution

One of many largest dangers of claiming no is that rejections can undermine the spirit of openness and collaboration that you simply’re attempting to foster, each inside and out of doors your staff. Concepts encourage, whether or not or not they develop into related, and the very last thing you need to do is stem the stream of creativity and communication.

I as soon as labored with a junior QA engineer who had a wealth of concepts. At practically each assembly he requested a number of questions and volunteered recommendations. His options have been usually not actionable ones, and a few of them might have been dismissed as unhelpful or irrelevant. However his dedication and enthusiasm have been invaluable. He was completely invested in delivering the very best product, and his contributions energized and impressed others. An angle like that’s contagious.

You need to create an setting through which individuals really feel inspired to share ideas and concepts, and are rewarded for doing so. Your staff must be motivated by the opportunity of enhancing issues as an alternative of discouraged by the considered being dismissed, ignored, or ridiculed. Implementing a number of easy practices will help make sure the psychological security of your staff.

Acknowledge concepts and requests publicly. This builds belief and exhibits that you simply worth recommendations and are dedicated to contemplating them. Arrange a request field, or a Confluence web page or different public discussion board that each one stakeholders can entry. When a request is available in, log it and ship a message to the requester, thanking them for his or her contribution.

I do know this will likely show controversial, however I generally go so far as to open the product backlog to everybody. This may be significantly useful in fostering engagement from the product staff, in addition to permitting staff members like QA testers and designers to notice issues they’ve encountered. The foundations are easy: Anybody can add to the finish of the backlog, and through refinements (or different weekly conferences) staff members share what they’ve added and clarify why. Solely the product supervisor can change the order of points or delete objects. Many individuals assume that granting everybody this degree of entry will result in chaos and anarchy, nevertheless it doesn’t. I’ve tried this at organizations of various sizes and it solely fails when persons are too shy to contribute their concepts.

When you’ve carried out an answer or launched a function even roughly associated to one in every of these logged requests, credit score the requester publicly. That is particularly essential when the answer isn’t a transparent success of the unique request however extra of a reframed model. Exhibiting appreciation for everybody concerned in a hit creates goodwill, builds camaraderie, and encourages individuals to proceed taking part.

Weighing the Execs and Cons of Saying No

For those who take the time to actually pay attention and perceive the place stakeholders are coming from, you not often have to reject proposals outright. Energetic listening, clear communication, and mutual respect are key elements in dealing with requests that will initially appear problematic or out of scope. Most instances, the artwork of claiming no by no means truly entails saying “No.”

There will probably be conditions through which it proves not possible to search out frequent floor, and a direct no is required so as to shield the product and the challenge. In different instances, you might be compelled to comply with by way of on stuff you don’t agree with. As a lot as your job is to guard the steadiness of desirability, feasibility, and viability, there’s a fourth dimension to think about: pragmatism. To maintain issues shifting ahead, compromise is vital, and generally which means avoiding a no altogether.

The great thing about Agile product growth is that its iterative nature affords many alternatives for course correction. In spite of everything, the purpose is build-measure-learn, not debate-dispute-derail.

Additional Studying on the Toptal Product Weblog:

Stakeholder Administration and the Artwork of Saying No