As a product manager for a technology company, people come to me all the time with suggestions for things we should do.  “We should build X new feature!”  “We should change Y process!”  “We should pay more attention to Z customer group!”  Sometimes it feels like everyone has an opinion for how we can improve our bottom line.

The problem is, often those opinions are presented with little data or factual support.

Over time, I’ve noticed a few different common types of these “opinion based” requests.

1) The “over index on a single use case or incident” request
This kind of request is extremely common.  It’s usually triggered when something bad happens – we lose a customer, we lose a new business pitch, one of our customers loses money, etc.  Any time something bad happens it’s tempting to over index on the specific case that caused the loss.  It’s human nature to overreact and over adjust – but if you’re not careful, you could put more focus on the incident than it otherwise deserves.

2) The “This is what our competitors are doing, therefore we should do it too”
Another common fallacy.  Our competitors are doing XYZ – and they’re “crushing us,” therefore we should do what they’re doing too.

The problem with this request is that people almost always overestimate the market success of competitors.  It’s similar to the “grass is always greener” complex.  Competitors have the same problems with strategy, organization, and execution that your company does.  In all likelihood, the same competitors you’re looking at, are looking back at your company and talking about how they can copy your practices.

3) The “We suck at this”/”We always mess this up” – therefore we should invest more in it
This request is trickier.  This is the desire to do an activity well (e.g. user testing or events) that’s not typically done well by the company.  The problem with this type of request is that there is probably a reason (either obvious or hidden) for why your company is bad at that activity.  It’s not always possible to fix systematic problems overnight – and sometimes focusing on a problem at the wrong level (e.g. trying to fix a strategy problem at a tactical level) can be counterproductive.

There are more…

Whenever folks come to me with these kinds of suggestions I always want to say the same thing, “Thank you very much for your opinion, unfortunately it’s useless to me.”

Of course, this response is much more flippant than I would ever present in person, but to a degree it’s the truth.

Opinions often are useless, what I really need is data.

If data is not immediately apparent (as is often the case), it’s important to ask the question “What data would we need to make a better decision about this.”

Every single decision can be made correctly if given the right data.

Sometimes data will be missing and assumptions need to be made.  Assumptions are dangerous and you need to keep a close eye on them.  It’s important list out and “prove” or “disprove” assumptions as quickly as possible (or risk continuing on the wrong course).

Still – assumptions should not be based on opinions either.  There is data and data-supported assumptions – that’s it.

Saying, “This is what I think we should do” is easy.  The hard work is collecting the data to make the right decision, analyzing the data, and defining/refining use cases.  Doing this kind of work can be extremely tedious.  It’s often very time consuming and not very fun.  But if done correctly you will make better decisions and have a better strategy.

Thanks Very Much for Your Opinion, Unfortunately It’s Useless to Me