A Spoonful of Sugar: How Savvy PMs Master the Art of Saying ‘No’
Bakers casual and masterful will tell you that discernment is the key to the perfect confection. Yes, pastel marshmallow fondant might make for a delightfully airy detail on that triple-layer genoise cake, but what if the occasion calls for a drizzle of orange oil ganache instead?
Saying “no” to inspiration is never easy, but the artistry of baking lies in knowing which sugary stroke of ingenuity to follow at the right time — and how to explain those decisions to others. Yet shrewdness isn’t unique to confectioners: Savvy project managers might borrow a page from the bakery as they parse through stakeholder requests.
Peaksware Product Manager Bryan Alders would agree. “Just because an idea might be impactful doesn’t mean the timing is right to pursue it,” he told Built In Colorado. “Every stakeholder is in pursuit of impact, but finding the right balance between customer and business value is the sweet spot.”
While managing a recent revamp of Peaksware’s checkout process, Alders received an overabundance of feedback: The director of UX dreamed of updating UI, the director of product hoped for additional payment options and the customer success manager suggested retooling payment management.
“While all were great ideas, they were unlikely to be quick or easy — and would ultimately slow down the release of the new feature,” Alders shared. In the end, he had to tactfully turn them down.
In practice, Alders sweetens the “no” by reiterating project objectives, resurfacing updates at a later time and taking a moment for face-to-face dialogue. “A one-on-one conversation with data can go a long way in helping someone understand why their idea isn’t being prioritized at the moment,” he said. “I’m able to come to an agreement with each stakeholder on their proposals.”
For project managers in tech, the art of saying “no” to active stakeholders is one of the cornerstones of a successful project. If all else fails, Alders joked, take time to enjoy the process: “I’ll never turn down baked goods along with a great idea.”
Peaksware is an edtech and fitness company that develops software programs designed to empower athletes, musicians and performers to educate clients through deliberate practice. Peaksware connects instructors with their students by allowing them to publish, teach and train: Educators can set specific goals and provide expert instruction and feedback. When it comes to connecting customer and client, Product Manager Bryan Alders sees himself as a champion for both sides. “Regardless of where the request comes from, I’ll always strive to prioritize solutions that deliver the most value for our customers and have the greatest impact on the business,” Alders said.
How do you decide which stakeholder requests to prioritize?
It’s possible that our president may come to me with an idea that has less potential impact than an idea from customer success or business development. I try to determine how the requests roll up to our top level objectives.
Please share an example of a time you had to say “no” to a stakeholder.
We’re working on a project that will let athletes bundle a trial of our premium SaaS tool with a training plan during the checkout process — providing them the best chance to achieve their goals. In doing so, we’re spending a lot of time in our checkout experience.
When sharing designs for the bundle with stakeholders, we’ve received some feedback on other opportunities that may improve our entire checkout experience. Our director of UX suggested updating the UI, our director of product had the idea of adding additional payment options and our customer success manager wanted to improve the way athletes could manage their payment method.
While all would likely be impactful to the business at some level, they’re also likely to slow down the release of our new feature and the features we have prioritized next.
Usually, customer feedback, data or a logical business case are all I need to tell the story of why we may not be able to address a specific need at this time.”
What other tips would you offer to a product manager who is struggling to balance the needs of multiple stakeholders?
I’m fortunate enough to work with some very reasonable people. Usually, customer feedback, data or a logical business case are all I need to tell the story of why we may not be able to address a specific need at this time.
These conversations used to happen organically in the office cafeteria or our in-office gym, but I’ve had to be a bit more deliberate in scheduling a specific time for them in our flexible office environment.