“The essence of strategy is choosing what NOT to do” – Michael Porter
And this is a good article on this topic by Vijay Balanchandran:
Vijay argues that there are three main scenarios where saying “No” to customers will create friction: when expectations are set incorrectly by sales and marketing; when a customer moves out of your target market; and when customers make niche requests that don’t represent the overall market need.
He postulates that the latter two are “ok” but the former is something that you should fix. I’d argue that whether the latter two are “ok” or not really depends on the market you’re in: in markets where the customer has significant leverage (massive accounts, limited total number of customers, intense competition, etc.) saying “Yes” to some of the requests that fall into the latter two bucket is actually the right thing to do. Product integrity doesn’t automatically trump all other business concerns.
But what I really like in Vijay’s article is the tool that he proposes for dealing with the first issue, which I’ll term “Expanded-MoSCoW“. In MoSCoW prioritization, features are classified into four buckets: Must-have, Should-have, Can-have and Won’t-have. Vijay focuses on the last bucket and suggests expanding it to: “Never-have”, “Not-soon-enough” and “May-not-have”.
This additional clarity on what the product is NOT intended to do (not even in the future), and our level of certainty around those statements, helps set clearer expectations with both internal and external stakeholders and drives better alignment. Furthermore, it can be expanded beyond the product realm into broader conversations about corporate strategy.
What other frameworks have you used effectively for saying “No” systematically?