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Saying no is an important skill of a product manager

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

A product manager's key responsibility is to ensure that the team is working on the right things. To ensure that, it is important to stay focused and say no to things that are not a value add to the customer. Here is a video by Steve Jobs talking about it.

How do we decide what to say no to? Here are a few things that can help our decision-making.

Say no to solutions looking for a problem:

Every problem has a solution, but every solution doesn't fix a problem and every problem doesn't have a customer demand. We may think something can be improved, but if the customer doesn't see it as a problem, it is better to put it aside and work on the problems that the customers already have.

Every customer has problems, we just need to identify them. The customers would rather want us to fix their real problems first before working on something that they don't even care about. It is important for product managers to focus on the problem space. They should become masters in identifying customer problems.

It is tempting to integrate the latest technology into the products, but always be careful to ensure there is a clear problem to solve and the problem is worthwhile to be prioritized.

Don't use technology for the sake of using it.

Eg: In one of my organizations, the management came up with the idea of introducing automated testing in all our products. It is a lot of work to introduce the concept. We had to build the competency and re-write the code for the most part. I have decided not to go with it for our existing products that are pretty stable and have almost no issues. Just because automated testing is the new cool thing, we don’t want to implement it in all our apps. We did it only for our new development activities that are of high customer impact and relevance.

Say no to non-essential problem statements:

In other words, prioritize the problems. We may identify something as a problem for the customer, but every problem statement need not be addressed immediately.

Before adding a certain feature/task into the sprint, it is important to prioritize it using the right techniques. The idea is to create the greatest impact with the least amount of work. Identify those problems first and tackle them. Then move on to the next high-priority items.

If a certain problem statement is valid, but of lesser priority, it can still be added to the product backlog and taken up at a later stage.

Product prioritization is a key concept every product owner should master. There are a lot of prioritization techniques that can be used - RICE model, Kano model, Value vs Complexity model, Opportunity Scoring, Walking Skeleton model, etc. I will cover these topics in detail in future blogs.

Say no to ideas that don't have a good product-market fit.

Product-market fit is the bridge between the product and the market need. It ensures that the target customers are buying, using, and telling others about the product in numbers large enough to sustain the product's growth and profitability.

It can be effort-intensive to figure out the product-market fit. This article explains the lean way of identifying the product-market fit which can reduce the amount of effort and resources spent drastically when identifying the product-market fit.

In summary, saying no is an important skill of a product manager; and explaining why is a superpower of the product manager. I hope the above techniques are helpful. Please share in the comments if you use any other techniques.

(Note: I have used the term Product Manager in this article for ease, the same applies to Product Owner too.)

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