Hey Boss — My Strategy Is Telling You "No"

Product manager says no

Here is how it goes down. You turn the corner and the big boss says, “I have a great new idea for a feature.” Or the sales engineer tracks you down and says, “Did you see my email? If we just add that new capability we could penetrate the healthcare vertical.” Your stomach churns. You nod calmly and say, “That sounds good, let me take a look and get back to you on what it would take.”

You scurry off — fast.

You have idea fatigue.

Now, the reality is that you know that you will never prioritize that great new idea. You either hear or read about the “greatest new idea” every other day. And each one is more important than the last. You are so worn out of the new, new idea that you actually try to avoid being in situations where folks can add more to the list.

But the ‘greatest new idea’ stalks you like a shadow — no matter where you turn it is whispered in your ear like an evil spirit that has nowhere else to go.

You have learned to control your reaction when the “greatest new idea” comes your way. And most folks think that you are actually serious when you say that you will think about it. But I have been a software product manager myself for too long to be fooled. And I have spoken with over 600 product and engineering managers at Aha! in the last few months.

That new idea will never be valued, promoted to a defined feature, or prioritized on the roadmap. You do your best to avoid answering questions about what happened to the idea, but when finally forced to you use one of the following reasons depending on who asked and how you feel.

When the day eventually comes when you are cornered and forced to respond, you will say, “That was a great idea. But, it did not make the roadmap because…”

  • The team is having a hard time delivering what they have already committed.
  • I am not sure we would be able to technically do it.
  • I just did not have the time to fully vet it yet.
  • I am not sure all of our customers would benefit from that.
  • I have not heard any customers ask for that.
  • The team is working on cleaning up all of the technical debt.
  • [Add your excuse here __________]

The reality is that most of the new ideas will not work. And the risk is that your idea fatigue will keep you from tuning into ideas that will work. So, you just put everything on the backlog and let them fade away. Building great software is hard, but it should not be excruciating. There has to be a better way to vet all of the incoming ideas and simply say “no” when the feature does not make sense.

Imagine if your product strategy could speak for you — if it could say ‘no’ to the ‘greatest idea of the day’ and you could simply sit back and smile.

As a great product manager you must establish a goal-first approach and a true north for your product based on the best information you have. Reaffirm your strategy and tweak it as a necessary, but stay grounded in what you are trying to achieve. Explain to the company and product team where you are headed and the value new releases and features will deliver to customers and the business. If you do, management, your company, and team will follow.

Your agreed-upon strategy will also be your ambassador — it will speak on your behalf. Your strategy is the best defense you can have when the “greatest new idea” is thrust upon you. It is rational and provides the best reason to explain why an idea may (or may not) work. It also makes it easy to identify the ideas that you must prioritize.

Starting with a goal-first mindset separates great product managers and companies from their competitors, and it can lead to disruptive innovation. It also gives you the confidence and credibility you need to say “no.” Because at the end of the day you are not the one saying it — your strategy is.

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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