Sep 15, 2013 3 min read

Joblorn: Grumpy About Unfunded Projects

Joblorn: Grumpy About Unfunded Projects

{Blended from several recent “Joblorn” questions. If you’re not sure this was yours, it probably was.}


I’m a product manager at RedactedCorp working on a redacted enterprise application. The new system will have redacted benefits, which will help my company sell more redacted.
My execs say they agree with the value-add, but my features are always de-prioritized when engineering resources get allocated . (We have constrained engineering bandwidth). How can I get priority for my features so that my PRD will see the light of day?

– Generating Reams of Unfunded MRDs and PRDs

Dear GRUMPy –

Writing PRDs to put on the shelf would make me grumpy, too! As product managers, though, we live to identify and solve problems – so let’s consider some possible problem/solution pairs, starting with the least difficult.

Also, remember that Engineering resources are NEVER sufficient to meet all needs — that wish lists are infinite —  so many (most) requests and requirements and demand will never be addressed. EVER. If you think your proposed improvements are more important than other things being funded, you owe it to the company to sell them through.

[1] Maybe you’re not making a clear/strong enough case for your improvements.
If your manager is purely rational☺ and you have a clear, well designed scoring/ranking process to decide which projects make it onto the roadmap and off the backlog☺, then you may not be articulating how important this project is.

You should have one of these in paragraph one of your PRD (or on slide #1 of your pitch deck, or line 1 of your Charter):

  • We predict this will add $3M to $8M to top-line revenue next year, and sales management agrees with our assessment.
  • This project will let us cut $0.5M to $1M in development costs, and Engineering agrees that we could shift that savings to headcount.

Or some such. Numbers, even wide estimates, count. Emotional and non-quantitative arguments are not sufficient, and unsupported speculation is hard to sell.  Give your manager a good reason to move your items higher on the list.

[2] Maybe these just aren’t important enough to fund.
It happens. Other work has higher ROI, or more customer demand, or regulatory mandates. Get with your manager and ask! If so, demand to work on something that will really get built. Writing PRDs is not — by itself — a valuable exercise.

[3] If there’s no clear ranking/scoring model for products and portfolio, then everyone is having similar problems. And that’s probably more important than your unfunded development project.
Volunteer to lead an effort to prototype some kind of strategic/value matrix or scoring system. (Luke Hohmann describes one here, and there are many others. Or I can help.)
Everyone will thank you for it, the company will be more successful, and you can always go back to your previous project once there’s a way to evaluate it. Or the CEO might recognize your talents and promote you to EVP of Strategic Analysis.

Cheesehead hat

[4] Maybe your boss hates you, or you wear funny hats to the office.
It happens. You alienate your peers by wearing a cheese hat, or suit-and-tie at a t-shirt-style company (HAMBAM).  Perhaps Engineering things you’re a technical lightweight.  Or your sordid affair with the CEO’s redacted redacted redacted is hallway gossip.
The answer is somewhere outside your cube: you’ll only find out by engaging with peers and managers. People are complicated, and businesses are made of people.

[5] This might not be about you at all, but a company-level issue.
Maybe the company is about to change strategies and target markets. Or cash is running short, and all projects are being canceled. Or they are dressing up the financials for an acquisition. Your issue may be a small echo of something much larger.


Notice that most of these solutions require you to talk with your boss, figure out where/how you add the most value, and deliver it. You’re stuck right now, and the perfect answer doesn’t live in your head. Get with your peers and managers, diagnose the situation, and propose some improvements that you can lead.  And take off that hat.

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