Video: The Art of Saying No by Mina Radhakrishnan

BY MARTIN ERIKSSON ON SEPTEMBER 09 2015

As product managers we practice the art of saying no every day. As much as product is about building and shipping great products, invariably in order to launch some things we have to not launch others. And that’s a big part of the job, but it’s never fun and can take it’s toll.

In this awesome talk from Mind the Product San Francisco, Mina Radhakrishnan talks about how to move away from simply saying no.

Why do we say no? Try counting the number of times you say no in a day – and why. They’re usually transactional and not that hard, and we’re ok with walking away from that person and not worrying about it. But when you care about people it’s harder to say no as at some point in the future you’ll need something from them. This is particularly relevant for product managers as we work with lots of different groups.

For product managers, prioritization is the main reason we say no. If resources were infinite we could do it all, but the reality is that we never can – whether you’re a startup or a giant enterprise. But prioritization is necessary and good and articulating priorities forces us to prove value and ask ourselves the tough questions so we have answers for others.

If you chase two rabbits you will lose them both.
Russian proverb

There are lots of ways to prioritise but all too often the backlog is simply force ranked by effort, but that doesn’t reflect the goals of the company.

Instead, prioritisation needs to take into consideration four things – Goals, Success metrics, Timeframes, and Potential solutions. Knowing why it matters and how you’re going to measure success makes the prioritisation align much better to company goals.

And once your prioritization is aligned with company goals, that conversation with someone who’s asking for a new feature changes from simply being you saying no to a conversation about how the request fits in to the company goals.

To do this, it’s important to just listen. Be quiet, listen, and take in what people are saying – it’s never a waste of time. Don’t assume you know what people are doing – they won’t come to you with problems, they’ll come to you with solutions and there could be other ways to solve their problem.

Once you’ve truly understood the request, you both understand the problem better and can explain how it fits into the priorities better by discussing what the solution would involve, what the value is and how it relates back to goals.

Without finding the common ground first the conversation doesn’t go anywhere, and you’re stuck with just saying no.

In the talk Mina shares some great examples of how to follow this process, breaking it down between small feature requests and large strategic decisions and outlining a number of great alternatives to just saying no.

Martin Eriksson

About MARTIN ERIKSSON

Martin Eriksson has 20 years experience building world-class online products in both corporate and start-up environments for global brands such as Monster, Financial Times, Huddle, and Covestor. He is the Founder of ProductTank, the Co-Founder and Curator of Mind the Product and currently a Product Manager at large, advising and mentoring startups while writing Product Leadership, How Top Product Leaders Launch Great Products and Build Successful Teams (O'Reilly, 2017).

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