Modern Work

5 Tips to Managing Conflicting Opinions In Product Development

Illustration of the thoughts of an office worker

As a product manager, a core piece of your job is collecting feedback and then putting it to work to improve your product development strategy.

Sounds simple enough, right?

But, any product manager with more than an hour’s worth of experience will say this problem is all too familiar:

Conflicting opinions about product development.

  • One user thinks that this feature is great, while another thinks it makes things too clunky and bloated.
  • One team member would love to see this added, while another thinks something else should take higher priority.
  • One client says this problem is the most pressing, while another mentions something on the totally opposite side of the spectrum.

Is your head spinning yet?

We certainly can’t blame you. But, dealing with these often contradictory viewpoints and criticisms is all part of the job. You need to figure out how to weed through them, separate the wheat from the chaff, and move forward in a way that pushes your product development toward the finish line.

Sounds impossible?

It’s not easy—we’ll admit that much.

However, it’s also not a total pipe dream.

Here are five helpful tactics you can implement to better manage all of those different opinions about product direction.

1. Start With a Question

The most helpful feedback is targeted feedback—it’s input that aims to solve a specific problem or answer a specific question. And, this all starts well before people start chiming in with their own two cents.

Think about it this way: If you had a product that you wanted to collect insights on, putting it out there and saying, “Hey, what do you think about this?” leaves the door wide open.

With that approach, people can comment on everything from the design to the function to the price.

While you’re bound to find some gems buried within all of those opinions, you’ll likely also be overwhelmed with differing viewpoints and far too much information.

It’s better to focus on something in particular that you’d like feedback on.

If you’re working on a software product, maybe you’d like to find out how user-friendly the navigation is or how thorough the onboarding and tutorial process is, for example?

When asking for insights from others, make your question explicitly clear. Show them the product, and then ask about the particular thing you want opinions on, just like this:

What do you think about the navigation menu?

Notice that this question is short and open-ended. Those are the best sorts of questions you can use when seeking feedback, as they lead to more honest insights.

Always use open-ended questions when asking for product feedback.

Multiple choice questions will give you answers based on your own assumptions,” says Harsh Vardhan in a post for Hiver, “If you really want to know what the customer is thinking, give them an open-ended question.

2. Target Specific Groups

Another way to be proactive in combatting numerous differing opinions flying your way is to target specific feedback groups at a time.

Yes, we know that you’re excited to get your product in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

But, shoving your MVP in front of everybody you’ve ever known and demanding their feedback is another surefire way to be bombarded with all sorts of clashing insights.

Hearing from your users, your sales people, your investors, and your mom all at once is bound to become overwhelming.

Related to the point above, when you have a specific question you want answered, always target a specific group with that query.

Perhaps you want to ask a select batch of customers what they think of the addition of this new feature.

Or, maybe you want to ask your customer success team if they think that change will address the pain points they often hear about.

Getting feedback from like-minded people who share similar goals and challenges with your product will naturally cut down on the conflicting opinions and feedback you face at one time.

3. Frequently Review Your Roadmap

Getting insights and input from others is helpful. But, you don’t want feedback for feedback’s sake. Each suggestion or change you implement should help to push your product in the right direction.

Unfortunately, that overarching objective is all too easy to lose track of when you’re dealing with all sorts of questions and changes.

You begin to think that all feedback needs to be utilized, just to appease your team and your users.

This is why it’s important that—when you’re met with differing opinions—you sit down and review your product roadmap to critically analyze the feedback you’re receiving.

Does that suggestion push you closer to the overall goal for the product? Or, does it take you in a totally different direction?

If you review your roadmap on a monthly basis, you can add extra granularity to the areas that are more impending, shift around deliverables based on what you’ve learned about your team, the technology and the market in the last month or so, and deliver a roadmap that’s subtly different, but not a massive change from what the team was already bought into,

– says Janna Bastow in a post for Mind the Product.

It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees in product management. So, making a conscious effort to frequently refocus on your objectives will help you better weed through that conflicting feedback and determine what actually deserves serious attention.

4. Ask “Why?”

We’re likely all familiar with that stage most toddlers go through when they respond to seemingly every statement with this question: “Why?”

As a product manager on the receiving end of conflicting feedback, you should apply this same tactic—albeit, in a slightly less obnoxious way.

Ryan Leask, VP of Product Management for SignalDemand eloquently explains this reasoning in his blog post on the matter:

Let’s say you have a customer request your product to add feature XYZ, it looks logical and something other customers you know will want it, so you put it on your backlog. But then another customer asks you for the exact opposite thing of feature XYZ. Because of the resulting cognitive dissonance, you will ask ‘why’ they want that. Only when you ask why, will you get to the real feedback/insight.

My point is that conflicting information often forces you to have that discipline because your brain will want to resolve these two opposing viewpoints,” he adds.

[ctt template=”1″ link=”PofIQ” via=”yes” ]Always ask why? to get to the root issue between two conflicting viewpoints.[/ctt]

This is an important practice whether you’re dealing with conflicting feedback or not. Going beyond the initial insight to determine the root of where that suggestion is coming from will ultimately help you better sort through those insights and build a better product.

Remember, you don’t need to take feedback at face value.

5. Stay Flexible

You don’t know what you don’t know, which means there’s no way you’ll be able to make everybody—from your customers to your sales team—happy all at the same time.

It’s human nature to think that our own personal preferences and ideas should take precedence over everything else. But, as a product manager, it’s your role to weed through those supposed urgent priorities and determine what actually needs to be addressed first.

Will everybody be happy when their request gets back-burnered in order to free up time for you to take care of something more pressing?

Probably not.

But, remember, your job as the product manager isn’t to make everybody happy (that’s pretty much impossible anyway, and your attempts will only lead to a bloated, unfocused result).

Instead, it’s your job to be as successful at product development as possible.

Sometimes that means implementing suggestions, and other times that means kicking them to the curb.

The important thing to remember is to stay agile and flexible. Feedback and opinions will change over time, which likely means your product will need to as well.

July 27, 2017