PRODUCTHEAD: Trade-offs and negotiation

PRODUCTHEAD: Trade-offs and negotiation

PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

meeting in the product #


Ask “why” to understand the other side’s position and interest

All negotiations involve both rational and emotional elements

Whatever decision you make as a product manager will disappoint some people

Teams benefit from a shared understanding of the trade-offs of decisions

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please recommend PRODUCTHEAD to a friend
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A lawyer friend of mine spends the majority of her time attempting to settle cases before they reach a court of law. Unlike the movies and TV shows, and despite the rhetorical skills of the legal counsel, a court case rarely results in a clear victory for either party. In many cases, the only “winners” are the lawyers on each side, who will require payment regardless of who wins.

Hence, settling a case early before it goes to court might mean paying a sum of money now, but ultimately would work out cheaper than the much larger legal expense of a full-blown court case, even if you were to “win” it.

Settling a court case is an exercise in negotiation. Each side evaluates the evidence, the strength of their own arguments and those of the other side. They each figure out what would be their and their opponent’s probable best-case and worst-case outcomes, were the dispute to go to court. They take into consideration the legal fees each side would have to incur. And after all that, they make a financial offer to the other side to stop before it gets really expensive for everyone.

Negotiated settlements can be straightforward when both sides have a solid understanding of the context and a realistic expectation of the likely outcomes. In these situations, it simply becomes a process of finding the right sum of money that makes both sides feel that they have “won”. Where it becomes complicated is when emotion clouds judgement, and it becomes more about people “having their day in court”, where they want to be seen to have “won” and the other side to “lose”.

As product managers, we’re (hopefully) rarely involved in litigation. A phrase you’ll often hear describes product managers as having “influence without authority”. We can’t make things happen by stamping our feet and demanding them. In practice, this means we are perpetually negotiating:

with our team to ensure we’re achieving a good balance of building the right thing and building the thing right;

with our stakeholders to balance their needs, the organisation’s needs and the users’ needs;

with our managers to balance demands on our time and expectations of performance;

and so the list goes on.

Despite how much of our time is spent negotiating with people, we’re almost never given any formal training in how to negotiate effectively. It ends up being yet another of those so-called “soft” skills that we’re somehow expected to absorb as if by professional osmosis.

There are some useful techniques and principles you can apply to negotiation. They won’t give you the ability to “win” every negotiation outright, but they’ll help you to reach a satisfactory win-win scenario for both parties more of the time. After all, unlike a court case, you generally have to keep working with the people with whom you’re continually negotiating.

Some of the articles I’ve included for you this week refer to Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury, so that’s a good starting point for you as any. I’ve also included a couple of talks from Lucy Spence and John Cutler who provide advice for product people having to make trade-offs as part of their daily negotiations.

Speak to you soon,


what to think about this week

Negotiation in product management: the pursuit of compromise

When I was a student, I took part in a negotiation exercise. We were given imaginary countries and had to negotiate our rights to the surrounding sea. The whole exercise quickly descended down into what the lecturer politely described as a study in realpolitik.

Unsurprisingly, empathy is involved

[Chris Bell / Mind The Product]

Negotiations and resolving conflicts: an overview

Every desire that demands satisfaction and every need to be met is at least potentially an occasion for negotiation; whenever people exchange ideas with the intention of changing relationships, whenever they confer for agreement, they are negotiating

In a successful negotiation, everyone wins

[Prof. E. Wertheim / College of Business Administration, Northeastern University]

Trade-offs: tips for deals with the devil

Product development requires trade-offs, but just like a deal with the devil, the devil is in the details of how you make those trade-offs. And your choices can be devilishly hard. This demonic themed talk looks at various techniques for easing the burden of the bargains you make.

[VIDEO] A DEVILISH framework :-)

[Lucy Spence / UX Brighton]

Towards meaningful (and actionable) alignment

Building shared understanding is hard work. Ironically, it is our most passionate team members that complicate the challenge. They crave coherence, a powerful Why, and a flexible environment for solutioning. How do we get everyone on the “same page” without glossing over the nuance, and stifling innovation?

[VIDEO] A practical exercise to run with your team at 00:24:40 onwards

[John Cutler / Front]

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Product managers of software and hardware platforms face unique challenges that PMs of ‘regular’ products do not.

In this panel discussion, Hans-Bernd Kittlaus discusses platform product management with Samira Negm, Peter Stadlinger and Jock Busuttil.

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[I Manage Products]

As head of product, should I be a player-manager, or hire and delegate?

“There’s plenty that needs doing with the products. I could focus on the hiring process, but the only product manager on my team has their hands full, so I can’t delegate any more to them. I could get stuck in with the products myself as a player-manager, but this means I won’t have time to hire.”

Find the right balance

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can we help you?

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Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.

PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from a bouquet of daffodils.

Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a product management and leadership coach, product leader and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn.

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