By saying no, your yes counts

Product Owner Feb 11, 2020

As a Product Owner, you will always have demanding stakeholders that think their thing is the most important.

Imagine you have three equally powerful stakeholders. They all want something different. All believe what they want is most valuable for the company. And they are not able to reach agreement.

Often what happens is that you are forced to work on two or three of those things simultaneously. All your stakeholders are pleased. In reality they all should be sad instead.

The Greek storyteller Aesop already nailed it in the fable 'The Miller, His Son & the Ass' more than 2500 years ago:

"If you try to please all, you please none." — Aesop

In the short story, a miller and his son are on the way to the market to sell their donkey. On the road they receive remarks about how they are traveling and adapt how they move based on these comments. Because they care too much about what others have to say, they lose their donkey on the way to market.

Walter Crane — Library of Congress

By working on all competing priorities of your stakeholders, the following happens:
1. Everybody gets what they want later.
2. You lose control over what gets delivered first.

That doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? So what’s the alternative?

Make a decision. Any decision. Say no, let’s not do two out of three of those important things now. Let’s do them later instead. Even a wrong decision is better than making no decision.

By saying no, you say yes to what really matters. You exercise control over what gets delivered first. You start working later on two out of the three priorities. Just because you start later, doesn’t mean they are finished later. Working on multiple competing priorities just grants the false illusion of progress: everybody is busy, but nothing is actually moving.

Special thanks to Michael Boumansour for inspiring me to write this.