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Focus means saying no

greg-joswiak Focus means saying no, not saying yes. If you spread yourself out over too many things, none of them will be great.—Greg Joswiak, VP of product marketing, Apple Inc.

For most product managers, it’s hard to say “no” to customers, sales people, and executives. You want to be a “team player” and you don’t want to be that negative guy who hates every idea.

Feature prioritization is a mystery to most of the people in your organization. How things get into the product is unclear. For executives, it seems their favorite features get in only if they complain loudly. For sales people, it seems that none of their critical features even get considered unless they commit the team with a customer contract.

What few seem to realize is you have many, many more requests than you have resources. You must constantly weigh the merits of one feature over another. Plus take into playbook defects and infrastructure.

Show them how you choose.

One of the most helpful, illuminating tools is a public backlog of ideas. Show everything on your wish list and assign business value to each. Obviously, you’ll want to show the business value to customers. But you should also show business value to your organization: features that will reduce our costs, that make the product easier to maintain or support.

When someone comes in with a new idea, where do they want it to go on your priority list? At the top of course! Next to all the other number one priorities. But as we’ve learned, you can’t have more than one number one priority.

So show them your list. Assign a business value and slot the new idea where it belongs—above or below all the other items on your list.

Now work the list from the top priorities until you run out of time or money. This way, you’ll be sure you’re hitting the most important items in each product release.

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