06/26/2015 04:32 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hey Boss -- My Product Strategy Is Telling you "NO!"


Here is how it goes down. You turn the corner and the big boss (who never uses the product or speaks with customers) says "I have a great new idea for a feature." Or worse, that pesky sales engineer tracks you down and says "Dude, 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's 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 managing ideas is difficult. Most new ideas are ridiculous and you know it. The risk is your idea fatigue will actually keep you from tuning in to an idea that actually matters.

So, you just put everything on the backlog and leave them to die a silent death. 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. Image your strategy 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. When the "greatest new idea" is thrust upon you your strategy is the best defense you could ever have. It's rational and provides the best reason to explain why an idea might be brilliant -- just for some other business or product. It will also make 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 can lead to disruptive innovation.

It also gives you the confidence and cred you need to say "NO" because at the end of the day you are not saying "NO" your strategy is.