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How to Say “No” to Your CEO’s Random Product Ideas

General Assembly
July 28, 2015
How to Say "No" to Your CEO's Random Product Ideas

Here is how it happens. You see the CEO in the hallway and he stops you. He then says, “I was thinking about this the other day—I have a great new idea for a feature.” You nod politely and walk back to your desk—feeling sick to your stomach along the way.

You know the truth. The reality is that you will never prioritize the CEO’s great new idea. Even though he could have you fired with a few words.

As the lead product manager, you deal with more than just the CEO. You hear about the “great new idea” on a daily basis from every team (engineering, marketing, etc.). Each person making suggestions seems to have good reasons why you should add their idea to the product roadmap. And you can often find the merit in their arguments.

But idea fatigue has already crept in. Here is how it happens:

Each “great new idea” presented to you is made to seem more urgent than the last. It’s understandable when you are surrounded by folks on different teams who all have competing priorities. But planning to give every new idea equal weight is a recipe for disaster — even when the feature request is coming from the CEO of your company.

[Tweet “Idea fatigue from any source is a distraction and will keep you from building what matters..”]

Ideas for new features should always roll up to your strategy and goals. If they will not enhance your product and business, then they should not have a home on your roadmap.

But you were polite when the CEO stopped you in the hallway and did not reject his new idea immediately. That is partially why he thinks you are going to build whatever he says. But you know better. It is now clear to you that the CEO’s random product idea will never be valued by customers, promoted to a feature, or prioritized on the roadmap.

So, the day eventually comes when you have to answer to the CEO. 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 have not heard any customers ask for that
  • Add your excuse here ______________________________

The reality is that you are a CEO too—the CEO of your product. You have every right to reject new ideas that do not add value. This is especially true when you are dealing with the leader of your company. Your CEO already has enough people telling him what he wants to hear.

Here is how you say “No” to your CEO:

1. Goal First

Take a more strategic approach to product management. Set your product strategy and then be proactive about communicating it within the rest of the organization. A “goal first” approach is about defining your vision and making sure everyone understands it. If you do this, then your strategy can say, “No” for you.

2. Score Ideas

Ideas come in from lots of different places. These include customers, sales, marketing, and even your CEO. All of these ideas are not created equal. Some might be great enhancements that will grow the business. Others might be duds. You should rank features and prioritize the ones that will have the greatest impact on the product and the company.

3. Share Your Roadmap

Too many teams work in disconnected silos. At Aha! we believe in being transparent. The product team shares our roadmap regularly with the entire organization. This ensures that we are all on the same page and working towards the same goals and initiatives.

Speak the truth to your CEO. Do not be afraid. And use your product strategy as your guide.

Building great software is hard, but it should not be excruciating. There has to be a better way to vet all incoming ideas and simply say, “No” when a feature does not make sense.

As a great product manager, you must establish a “goal first” approach. If you do, your CEO, company, and team will follow. Your agreed upon strategy will also be your ambassador that speaks on your behalf. Because at the end of the day, you are not saying, “No”— your strategy is.

Build your own product strategy.

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