The Art of Saying No: How Product Managers Can Manage Stakeholder Expectations

Product Managers (PMs) are oftentimes torn between stakeholders who may want them to keep a product on track and a tight release timeline that forces them to prioritize a smaller number of features. An important factor to success as a Product Manager is learning how to manage stakeholder expectations and saying “No”.


Product Managers are responsible for foreseeing a product’s future, understanding user requirements and going beyond what customers have asked. It is no surprise that Product Managers are often stuck in the middle between different stakeholders like customers, engineers, marketing and executive teams.

One primary goal of a PM is to keep stakeholders informed without finding themselves in a difficult situation with them when it comes to delivering on expectations. That’s why mastering the art of saying no is an essential skill for today’s Product Managers.

What is Not Possible?

In order to say no effectively, it’s important for PMs to understand their limits and develop realistic standards for what is possible or not possible.

For instance, stakeholders may want PMs to take on a release that is too large, implement impractical features, or accomplish a timeline that is too soon. Product Managers should be aware of the scope of their work, make accurate assessments of progress, and be reasonable with deadlines that are realistically feasible.

Conversations with stakeholders should always remain professional and encouraging while gently correcting misinformation. This could mean pushing back on an unrealistic timeline or discussing alternatives to what is not achievable.

Communication is Key

It is important for Product Managers to stay updated with stakeholders about their product and its updates. Early and consistent communication sets healthy expectations on both sides.

 Setting Expectations Early and Often

During the early stages of the product design process, it is important to set expectations with stakeholders. This could be by discussing the roadmap, suggesting alternative solutions if needed, and updating stakeholders on their product’s progress.

Be sure to take the time to listen to stakeholders’ requests, provide feedback, and express gratefulness for their input. This encourages open dialogue, keeping the relationship positive and respectful.

Maintaining Transparency

Product Managers should maintain transparency throughout the development process by sending regular updates. This could be through emails, project status updates, and project completion checkups.

Clear communication is key in any product development process and helps prevent any last-minute surprises.

Offer Solutions, Not Excuses

When PMs learn to master the art of saying “No” it should not feel like they are shutting the stakeholders out completely. It is important to always provide alternative solutions when PMs are unable to accept the requests. Oftentimes, stakeholders may have difficulty understanding why a decision was made.

Explaining why a feature won’t work or why a deadline cannot be met allows PMs to think outside the box and offer solutions that may be more feasible, cost-effective, or time-efficient.


The art of saying “No” is an essential part of a Product Managers role. While PMs may have to balance between keeping stakeholders informed about their product’s updates and setting realistic expectations on what is feasible, this can be done in a way that remains professional and respectful.

By understanding the limitations of their ability to complete features and create realistic timelines, PMs can create a healthy working relationship with stakeholders that is based on trust.

Managing stakeholder expectations can be a difficult skill to master, but with the right communication and by offering supportive solutions, PMs can ensure they create successful and sustainable products.

Key Takeaways

    • Understand Your Limitations: PMs should be aware of the scope of their work, make accurate assessments of progress, and be reasonable with deadlines.
    • Set Expectations Early and Often: Early and consistent communication is key for setting expectations between stakeholders and PMs.
    • Offer Solutions, Not Excuses: Explain why a feature won’t work or why a deadline cannot be met and offer suggestions for other solutions.
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