I'm pretty sure a lot of Product Managers know the feeling when people in your company ask you to add new features into the app or software you are managing. As a PM, you know your users or clients want features as soon as possible. They naively imagine that it is just a matter of copying and pasting some similar features, and that's it. Your developers are desperate or starting to complain that they will not deliver given the timeline and pre-emptively blame you for setting the wrong expectations.
It's a very tough place to be, and many PMs experienced that. Some of you may become the "Product Martyr" from Matt Lemay's book - "Product management in Practice,"; working 80 hours in a week trying to beg the developers to deliver things on time. Or some of you have thought of quitting the PM career because it's stressful to be the middleman without authority?
It doesn't have to be like this. In this blog post, I will show you the reasons why your client, boss, and users think in that way. Once we understand the dynamics, we will manage their expectations better and become more effective Product Managers and communicators.
Why do people ask to add new features?
Your users will only ask for new features if they like and are using your Product. That is an excellent sign. A product without a feature request can only mean a couple of things:
- You created so many features that your users are overwhelmed.
- You made so many features that are not relevant to your users.
- You have no user.
- Your existing users are moving away from you because they found a better competitor product.
- Very rare: your Product is PERFECT!
In general, it is a good sign people are requesting new features. They understand the importance of your Product, and they are engaged in its success. It is also a sign they want to keep using your software, and that is why they are asking for features to enhance their experience.
Why do people always think that it takes little time to develop their features?
Most of your colleagues, employees, and bosses do not understand how a product is created. It is not their responsibility to know that. It is your job as a PM to manage people's expectations. Most people can only relate product development experience because of the launch cycles of significant consumer products such as the iPhone or Android smartphones released yearly. It's not a surprise to hear users saying: "Why can't you do it like Apple?"
You probably think that you lack resources, the user is a lunatic, and that you are not Apple. But that is not going to help you solve your problem.
Another reason why people have unrealistic expectations is they use previous development time to estimate new features. Unfortunately, they don't understand that the context of creating an MVP is very different than in a more mature product. For new products or MVPs, there are usually no dependencies nor complex interactions between features. But for more mature products, the creation of a feature requires touching so many other parts of the Product that, for users, they think those are done "automatically."
Why shouldn't you feel desperate when you hear that as a Product Manager?
When you understand where your users, colleagues, bosses, clients, and others think about product development, it becomes much easier to confront the issue. You need to stop getting desperate when hearing a new feature request, which they say it's an easy thing to create.
Your emotional reaction is telling you two things:
- I can't do it.
- They are unreasonable.
And there are solutions for both of them.
What can you do?
You cannot do it is an instinctive reaction that tells you don't have the right resources or capability to deliver. The first thing you should do is to ask more questions to the user. Questions such as:
- Why are you asking for this feature?
- Without the new feature, what are the workarounds you are doing today to achieve your goal?
- Could you walk me through the feature you want?
- Have you considered other solutions?
It's essential to understand the context and the real drivers of why they are suggesting that feature. Most of the time, many users offer a solution for a problem instead of telling you the problem, and then you can figure out a quicker solution with the developers.
Then, once you understand the problem, you don't have to play the "Product Hero" of trying to solve everything yourself. Yes, in some startups environment, you are the one coming up with the solution, but even then, you have the power to ask for help to come up with the answer. You can ask on Reddit, LinkedIn groups, and many other places. Sometimes, the solution is to use someone else Product!
Then, for the thought of users being unreasonable, that comes to two different paths. Sometimes, you are working for an entrepreneur who doesn't give a f* about what you have to do to achieve the goal. I would consider if that is the environment you want to grow your career. Most of the time, you have two tricks to work with the unreasonable.
First, you can negotiate the breadth of scope of the deliverable time. You can suggest trimming down the feature request in such a way that it becomes easier to implement. Or you can tell by pushing some other works down the priority to accommodate the feature request. Second, you can educate your audience if they have patience for it.
Don't apologize. Prioritize!
Most of the time, working with your team about prioritization will take off that pressure you feel when everybody is requesting the next shiny thing for your Product. People will start seeing how the dynamics of development work, and that itself suffices to manage people's expectations.
Also, one of the most critical tasks of a PM (or Product Owners in some organizations) is to order what should be developed and launched constantly. Once your team understands that there is a massive queue of things to be done, it is even easier to invite them to help your priority. They will even feel part of the process and feel ownership, leading to a better product outcome.
By doing that, you are also educating your team about how things are done.
You don't need to roll your eyes when your team, client, and boss want a feature and thinking that is easy to develop and launch. It's essential to understand how they are thinking and the needs of their requests. Once that is cleared, either the feature can be simplified, or the priorities can change. Have your team prioritize with you, and that transparency can help everyone understand better the whole process. With that, you can take a bit more weight off your shoulder!
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