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Yes, No, Maybe So: What to say to change requests

Last updated June 8th, 2018. First published

Key Points

  • In general, steer clear of "yes" and "no" to requests so that you can help reframe solutions.
  • Your goal should not be to say "yes" to as many requests as possible (except by streamlining common requests).
  • A solid response to a request is "yes" but with shifted requirements (to achieve higher impact).
Related resource
Change Request Flowchart | Use this flowchart when you get a change request

Requests usually need to be reframed for maximum impact

Requests for changes to our digital presence come all the time. On the face of it, it seems that saying "yes" to as many requests for changes as possible would be ideal. But this simply is not the case. For one thing, one of the quickest ways to inflexibility is by being too flexible, largely because being too flexible allows incoherent growth that becomes unsustainable. In general we need to take the time to consider requests, from seeing if other stakeholders have similar needs to digging underneath the proposed solution to what the actual need is.

For anything but processes that are already streamlined, make sure to provide a buffer of time to reframe requests and solutions for maximum impact

Requests do not need to be reframed if you already have a streamlined process to deal with this common type of request

Of course you want common requests that serve a business goal to be streamlined. In other words, these requests should result in a rapid "Yes" assuming two things: 1) the streamlined process is already implemented and 2) the specific request is valuable and meets minimum standards. On the second point, we don't want to just be churning out junk efficiently.

One of our primary goals in our routine work program should be to set up the mechanisms for streamlined and optimized fulfillment of standard requests. Looking at the four types of digital change, we want to push the routine work program (which is mostly concerned with improving the underlying machinery) toward improvements in the streamlined, day-to-day processes (and avoid one-offs).

We aspire to be in the less disruptive, continuous improvement quadrants

Reframing requires a gap between the request and response

In order to get out of the churn of requests (and the pressure to implement what can be done quickly regardless of whether it is a good practice), we need to create a gap between the request and when any response is given. This allows the team dealing with requests to look for patterns in order to both: 1) decide what is worthy of implementation and 2) the best way to implement. 

In general straight yes and no to responses is not ideal, EXCEPT where you have already defined a streamlined process for a common task.

Just because something can be implemented quickly does not mean that it should be implemented quickly. In particular, your goal should be to streamline what should be fast, but only in a methodical way by first implementing it in your core systems and at that point let everyone loose to do this newly-streamlined process (rather than just letting everyone do their own thing, which means that those with more resources or abilities will get what they want but it won't be in a consistent way or help those that are less sophisticated). For instance, if you frequently have requests for a better way to display visuals, then that should be implemented in the CMS so that everyone can present visuals better (rather than simply allowing people to put in their own code to accomplish this in a one-off way, even though that would be simple to implement). 

Solid responses

When responding to potential requests, consider using the solid responses in the first table, and generally avoid those in the second. 

Generally don't say Yes or No but these responses that help reframe requests for maximum impact.

SOLID Responses

When to use

Yes, with shifted requirements

Example: request for API to specific dataset, but instead commit to organization-wide API framework (perhaps in the next three months defining the problem)

  • When other stakeholders have similar needs
  • When original request states a solution rather than the business need

Yes, but less than requested

Example: request for the ability to have any color text for a call-out box, but instead deliver a palette of colors

  • Test hypotheses before fuller implementation
  • Confirm stakeholder commitment (will they actually promote and use what is implemented?)
  • Provide 80% of the value for 20% of the cost

Not now, but maybe later

Example: any request that is kept in the request list but is not included in the next work program

  • When a request does not become a priority based on your factors in deciding on the work program

Fundamentally, we need to move from order takers to product managers — from simply executing what is requested to reframing the problem for maximum impact.

Occasional responses

To achieve that, I would recommend moving away from "Yes" and "No" and toward more nuanced responses. In particular, notice that "yes we will do that in the future" is notably NOT on the list below. In general I recommend a regular work program cycle rather than some long term roadmap, and committing to do something far in the future basically locks you in rather than being able to respond to unanticipated opportunities later. Related, note that I do not recommend saying "No" routinely either, but instead respond with "Not now, maybe later" — this allows you to watch the stream of requests to look for patterns. 

Generally only use these responses occasionally, although providing unexpected changes can be very high impact when done well.


When to use


Example: request for a site that does not pass your decency standards

  • Only when a request is radically off-base (since we don't know what the future holds, or how a better understanding of the requirements will change over time)

Yes (literally as requested)

Example: fix a long-standing and clearly-understood bug in the caching process

  • If this type of request is already streamlined and it meets minimum standards
  • When the request is a blantant bug with a clear desired outcome
  • Otherwise then the request is either: a) extremely straightforward or b) well thought out and a clear business priority

Provide something not specifically requested

Example: improve repository search (searching content in the backend) in order to improve the overall experience even though it is not specifically requested

  • When product management sees an opportunity to radically improve the digital presence or the backend, based on overall trends of problems or opportunities rather than responding to a specific request

Note: although this should only be used occassionally, it can be used to great effect from time to time

In some ways of course the "yes" response will be very common, but, especially if they are implemented as self service, they will start to become so routine that they aren't even requests that require bandwidth from the central team.

These tables originally appeared in the book Website Product Management

Change Request Flowchart Use this flowchart when you get a change request