K.N.O.W how to say NO

Product Managers have to make choices regularly. This means that he/she has to say NO to more number of things to arrive at the final decision. You are at the centre of all the stakeholders and each of them has their way to tackle a problem. The complexity increases because these stakeholders would expect you to accommodate their problems at the earliest. But as a Product Manager, your job is to solve problems that will have the highest value to your customers first.

Why is it difficult to say No?

Let’s agree to the fact that saying NO to others is not easy and does not come naturally, everyone. This is because right from the starting of our life, we have been trained to say YES.

Well, as children, we learned that saying NO was impolite or inappropriate. If you answered NO to your parents or teachers, you would certainly be considered rude. When you have moved to your job you say YES to the task given to you, and you go an extra mile to finish it with perfection. And suddenly when you transition to the role of a Product Manager, you need to unlearn the habit of saying YES and it gets difficult to say NO.

Product Management is a people-oriented role and requires you to have a good relationship with all the stakeholders. The last thing you want is to piss off somebody just because you said NO. But you can say NO if you K.N.O.W how to say it.

What happens if you never say NO?

Imagine you are building a product that has to survive in Jungle. Just imagine you keep on saying YES to all the stakeholders.

  • The CEO tells you that the animal should be the most fierce in the jungle, and therefore, it should be a Lion.
  • The Operations guy tells you that it should have a long life. Therefore, it should be an Elephant.
  • The Field Co-ordinator tells you that Tortoise has the most extended life.
  • Someone tells you that it should be able to jump like a Kangaroo.

If you say YES to what everyone is suggesting, then you will end up building a product that is not going to solve any problem of your customer.

Here’s an exciting video of Steve Jobs that talks about “Focusing is about saying No.”

K.N.O.W how to say NO

Making decisions daily is part of the Product Manager’s job. And it is an excellent indication that you are not on the right path if you are not saying NO to a lot of things regularly. Here is a simple framework that you can follow to say NO.

K- Keep your Ears Open

N- Negotiate and explain your position

O- Obey the first principles to break down the problem

W- Work on timelines

Let’s consider a few scenarios where you have to say NO to your stakeholders:-

  1. On-field co-ordinator wants you to build an additional feature urgently so that 100% of customer scenarios are resolved. Here is how you should say NO.
  • K- Keep your ears open -> You might already know what he is going to say. But you should give the other person a chance to speak and explain the entire scenario. The only thing you should do is listen carefully
  • N- Negotiate and explain your position -> You explain to him that currently, the focus of the team is to build/optimize another piece of work which requires more attention. And you can accommodate the task only if it is a show stopper.
  • O- Obey first principles -> Break the problem using the first principle to its smallest components and work backwards. Maybe, you come with the root of the problem, or you discover it is an edge case which can be parked for the time being. Say you find that the scenario is currently affecting not more than 2% of use cases.
  • W- Work on timelines -> This is probably the most critical step. If you have parked the problem for sometime later then fix a timeframe when you will discuss it further. If you want to revisit the issue after a quarter, then add a reminder to your calendar so that you don’t miss it.

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2. Your Engineering Lead intends to concentrate on Technical Debt for the next sprint.

  • K- Keep your ears open- Understand the scenario about the technical debt and what makes it super urgent for the Lead to work on technical debt so urgently.
  • N- Negotiate and explain your situation- Explain your situation about the major hotfix that you have to do and an urgent integration for your biggest client.
  • O- Obey first Principles- Break down the situation into the smallest units. Maybe the technical debt can be spread across in components across multiple sprints.
  • W- Work on Timelines. Set a reminder if you have to discussion again at a later point in time or check the progress of the tech debt work.

The kind of impact will be opposite if you bluntly said NO to your stakeholders or agreed to their requests. You need to have a balance every time.

Next time you are in a situation where you need to say NO, you will K.N.O.W how to say it.

This article was originally published at Medium.

January 10, 2020

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