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How to Deal with Impossible Requests
Speaking about alignment, feasibility, goals, and alternatives
As a product manager, it's not uncommon to receive requests that seem impossible to fulfill. Whether it's a tight deadline, a limited budget, or a seemingly insurmountable technical challenge, it can be daunting to figure out how to move forward. But fear not, dear product managers! There is a way to deal with these impossible requests without losing your sanity (or your job).
Prerequisite: You actually want to fulfil the request. There are many situation where the request simply does not make sense, is not goal-oriented, or for any reasons against your wishes.
My principles here are open communication and goal-orientation.
The request should somehow fit into the current goal framework, be it company goal, product goals, or personal career goals. I encourage you to put this on top of your mind when discussing the request.
Furthermore, it is always better to openly communicate your concerns. That way, you will involve the requester into finding a solution, instead of being the naysayer.
Step 1: Ensure Alignment
The first step in dealing with an impossible request is to ensure that you and the requester have the same understanding of the task and, most importantly, the goal. It's essential to clarify the purpose of the request and what is expected of you. Sometimes, the request may seem impossible because of a misunderstanding or miscommunication.
Step 2: Check for Feasibility
The next step is to determine whether the task is genuinely impossible. You might lack perspective, information, or need to change other plans. To check feasibility, create a list of your concerns and why you believe they are blockers.
Step 3: Communicate with Your Stakeholder
Once you've identified your concerns, it's time to communicate with your stakeholder. Share the list of concerns with them, and work together to determine whether any information is lacking, or the concern is valid and needs to be worked on.
Having an open and honest conversation with your stakeholder is crucial to ensure you're on the same page and to determine whether any course correction is necessary. This step can be a lengthy discussion, an async written exchange, or a quick three-minute chat. Regardless of the format, the critical thing is to have an open line of communication.
Step 4: Look for Alternatives
If you and your stakeholder agree that the concern is valid, it's time to start exploring alternatives to reach the goal. Brainstorming alternatives can help you identify new ways of approaching the problem that you may not have considered before.
Dealing with impossible requests can be challenging, but it's an inevitable part of being a product manager. By following the four steps outlined above, you can manage impossible requests while maintaining open communication and a focus on the goal.
Remember, as a product manager, your role is to advocate for the customer, the business, and the team. By working collaboratively with all stakeholders and exploring alternatives, you can ensure that you're delivering value while also balancing technical feasibility and business constraints.
So, next time you receive an impossible request, take a deep breath, and follow these steps. Who knows, you might just surprise yourself and find a solution that exceeds everyone's expectations!
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What I read
This is separate section of this newsletter. I will list some of the best articles I read on the internet. They may or may not be related to the topic of this article. I will keep a list of the best articles (currently >650) at https://www.digital-product-management.com. These are today’s picks:
Path from “The Problem” to “Viable Business Model”: What needs to be true for a problem to present a viable business model?
Common but Avoidable Career-Limiting Mistakes: A list of 11 mistakes that limit your career.
Fixing an underperforming product team: Some of the actions you might take to put a team back on track.