A key skill for any Product Manager is ‘saying no’. Choosing which things to do, and which not to do. This isn’t the kind of thing you didn’t do because it happened to sit in your backlog forever. It’s the conscious “we’re never going to do that” type of decision.
If you have decided on a strategy up-front, saying no becomes a lot easier.
Most known brands and startups have something they’ve said a hard ‘no’ to (at least initially).
- IKEA said no to pre-built furniture
- Tesla said no to fossil-fueled cars
- Afterpay said no to variable payment schedules
- Dollar Shave Club said no to retail distribution
- Twitter said no to more than 140 characters (for awhile)
- Jiffy Lube said no to pretty much anything not lube related
It is the same for software. BaseCamp is known for saying a hard ‘no’ on Gannt charts. Some customers asked for it. Competition sprung up that offered it. It didn’t matter. As a company, doing Gannt charts was one hard ‘no’ that Basecamp would stick with. And by most people’s accounts, Basecamp is hugely successful.
This is an example of a trade-off. All the time & resources that were saved on not building Gannt charts, went into other things; R&D, marketing, sales, reducing tech debt, customer onboarding, analytics, the list goes on.
So how do you decide what to do, and what to say no to?
The answer lies in the key pillars of business strategy, of which there are three.
- Positioning – what you serve and who you serve it to
- Trade-offs – choosing which activities to do, and which not to do
- Fit – how the activities you perform interrelate
To understand which trade-offs to make, first we need to identify a unique and valuable position. Trade-offs will then become more apparent. With those two in place, we will have a competitive strategy. For it to become a sustainable strategy – one that cannot be copied over time – we need to determine how to maximise fit.
Porter, M. (1996). What is strategy? Harvard Business Review, (Nov-Dec 1996).