Back to resources

Handling Frustrating Feature Requests

Roadmap
Stakeholders

27 January, 2021

Michael Smith
Michael Smith

VP of Innovation at Omnipresent

Michael Smith, VP of Innovation at Hadean Supercomputing, shares how he successfully reframed the dreaded feature requests into a stakeholder engagement exercise that helped him sell and test his roadmap.

Problem

While acting as a PM at Google, I was having an extremely stress-filled day. Then a very smart and influential salesperson stopped and said, "Hey, I have an idea for a product feature - can I pitch it to you?"

"Great," I thought to myself, "as if I didn't have enough to prioritize already, and now I have to manage this random idea for a feature. I'd love to tell them 'no,’ but perhaps they're going to escalate; I don't have time for this." My anxiety increased as I felt my backlog increasing, deadlines slipping or a huge amount of expectation management queueing up.

Since then, I have seen many PMs with this same problem: a stakeholder or even the CEO comes at them with a feature. Most of the time, this feature request is in the form of a proposed solution in light of a perceived customer problem.

I propose that this anxiety-inducing experience is an opportunity if you take the right actions.

Actions taken

I checked myself: why am I resistant to have people pitch ideas to me? Shouldn't I have space to listen?

I realized that fielding this request was my job. If a feature request hadn't come to me, then someone might have worked around me, either going to stakeholders or engineers directly. So I thanked the person who had the request, cementing my position as the gatekeeper in their mind. To myself, I celebrated that they were knocking on the "front door" of the team. Channeling the suggestions of Stephen Covey ([ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_People#5_-_Seek_first_to_understand,_then_to_be_understood]), I thought: "Seek first to understand, then be understood." So I "leaned in" to the request and said what would become a staple of my communications from then on: "That's an interesting hypothesis!" I asked the requestor to tell me more: why believe that would be useful? What user and/or business issue are you working to solve?"

I listened very closely. They explained the feature and what it did, but I pressed the requestor for the "why": what was the customer problem that they thought they were solving? Once I understood the "why", I could tell them how this customer needs fits currently into my mental model and roadmap. I had another solution queued up in the roadmap that I believed might more elegantly tackle the underlying customer issue: how might their suggestion be better than what I had proposed? Did they agree with the items that I had prioritized before then?

Once we discussed all that, the salesperson felt heard, and I had a thought partner to pragmatically test my roadmap. I only had minor changes to make, and they only significantly helped my roadmap! Win-win!

Lessons learned

  • Always engage with incoming feature requests, but do so by digging into the underlying customer need.
  • My experience me to a framework I have since built for handling feature requests:

a. Acknowledge. Thank them and tell them, "that's an interesting hypothesis.” Put yourself into an open mindset.

b. Understand. Ask them about the customer problem they're solving.

c. Respond. Explain how their proposed solution might or might not already be solved by your existing roadmap, your reasoning on this, and solicit their opinion.

  • But above all, embrace incoming feature requests as opportunities to learn more about users, build rapport and share information with your stakeholders.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

How to Organize, Manage, and Grow Your Team

12 July

Vineet Puranik, Senior Engineering Manager at DocuSign, discusses the impact of roadmaps, organization, and proper management for your teams to procure growth.

Managing Expectations
Delegate
Collaboration
Roadmap
Strategy
Vineet Puranik

Vineet Puranik

Senior Engineering Manager at DocuSign

Dealing with Uncertainties and Adapting as You Go

14 June

Muhammad Hamada, Engineering Manager at HelloFresh, addresses the uncertainties brought on by the pandemic, how these have affected our work environments, and how we can adapt.

Goal Setting
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Roadmap
Stakeholders
Prioritization
Muhammad Hamada

Muhammad Hamada

Engineering Manager at HelloFresh

Promoting Interdepartmental Teamwork for More Efficient Problem-Solving

13 June

Roland Fiala, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Productsup, raises an interesting issue about autonomy in teams: does it hinder collaboration opportunities that lead to better problem-solving? He shares his system for promoting teamwork in engineering departments.

Internal Communication
Collaboration
Roadmap
Team Processes
Cross-Functional Collaboration
Roland Fiala

Roland Fiala

Senior Vice President of Engineering at Usergems

The Art of Asking Why: Narrowing the Gap Between Customers and Users

24 May

Jord Sips, Senior Product Manager at Mews, shares his expertise on a common challenge for product managers – finding root causes and solutions.

Customers
Innovation / Experiment
Product
Personal Growth
Leadership
Stakeholders
Users
Jord Sips

Jord Sips

Senior Product Manager at Mews

Balancing Technical Debt Innovation: How Roadmaps for Development Help Your Company Succeed

4 May

Brad Jayakody outlines the roadmap to maintaining a healthy balance between technical debt and team growth. However, just as balancing acts go it is important to have a strong foundation.

Alignment
Leadership
Impact
Roadmap
Tech Debt
Career Path
Brad Jayakody

Brad Jayakody

Director of Engineering at Motorway