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Why you should be glad when your product team tells you "no"

by Angus Innes2 August 2022 5 Min Read

At its core, product management is the art of prioritising value or work. As your product team, our job is to help your business succeed, which means identifying the features and functionality that will deliver the most value in the long term. It’s about focusing on outcomes, not outputs, to help you achieve your strategic business goals.

This means we sometimes need to push back on your ideas or put them in the backlog. We do this because we’ve got our eyes on the bigger prize.

Besides hard deadlines or costs outweighing the return, below are some of the main reasons we’ll happily tell you "no". And why this is great news for your business and bottom line.

⛔️ We say no when… It deviates from your value proposition

Without a clear mission, it’s impossible to identify the features and functionality that will help a business succeed. Deviating from a value proposition too early in the product process has the potential to compromise your success. That's why saying "no" at this point can be crucial. I’ll give you an example.

On a recent project for a collectables platform, the idea was floated to number each piece of the asset being sold. Whilst this feature may have worked to improve the asset’s tangibility, it also had the potential to create a bidding war for pieces with a more desirable number – say, the first piece or a number with cultural significance.

The value proposition we were testing centred around anyone being able to own a piece of history. So saying no to a feature that would turn the product into another trading platform for investors motivated by financial gains was a no-brainer.

⛔️ We say no when… It compromises the UX

Since the launch of Web2, users have come to expect digital products with personalised experiences and seamless journeys. I’m talking integrated payments, auto-filled forms, you get the drift. So, if a product’s UX is a total nightmare, it makes sense that mass adoption is little more than a pipedream.

One of our recent investment clients wanted users to be able to autograph their digital assets to bring a personalisation element to the platform. Due to budget and time constraints, the only way to achieve this was through a third party. But this required users to leave the site and autograph their assets on a mobile device using their index finger. As anyone that’s ever tried to put their John Hancock on a Huawei with a chipolata will tell you, the user experience is pretty rubbish.

So, whilst the signature idea was intended to heighten the sense of asset ownership, the UX sacrifice was too big a price to pay. In this instance, we managed to find a happy medium by building in the functionality for users to add their initials with a choice of fonts, providing a sense of personalisation whilst also preserving the user experience.

⛔️ We say no when… The data backs it up

When you have a legal dispute, you engage a lawyer. When you have a marital issue, you get a counsellor. When you have a product challenge, you call on the data. Because, like a lawyer or therapist, the data acts as a neutral third party. The more data you have, the more confident you can be in the decisions being made.

Before launching Skin Rocks with Caroline Hirons, we had a group of engaged user testers. They provided direct feedback to us via Instabug on features they rated and what they wanted to see more of. While this feedback was invaluable, it didn’t paint the whole picture.

Tracking user events and funnels, we could see where users were spending time and where they were dropping off. This data helped us determine what to prioritise for launch, which meant saying “no” to our previous roadmap in favour of features the user data supported.

It’s no... for now

Of course, there’s really no such thing as ‘no’ in the product world. Anything is possible. But there is such a thing as "not now". For many projects, time is the only fixed resource. And spending time in one place will detract from another, so it really comes back down to prioritisation.

Ultimately, if all stakeholders have aligned interests, everyone should agree that if something doesn't deliver on the value proposition, we shouldn't do it. If it compromises the UX, we shouldn’t do it. If the data tells us no, we shouldn’t do it. And if the time or cost outweighs the return, then we definitely shouldn’t do it.

Product Agony Aunt, shipping little and often to solve your product problems one step at a time.
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